The X Factor
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Slackers. Busters. Grungers. Today's twentysomethings and early thirtysomethings have certainly had their share of unflattering monikers to contend with--along with the dubious distinction of being the generation to follow in the giant footsteps of the baby boomers. To assess--and explain--the impact of Generation X, author (and Xer) Meredith Bagby wrote Rational Exuberance: The Influence of Generation X on the New American Economy (Dutton). We spoke with Bagby, whose book will be published next month.
Entrepreneur:Do you think Gen Xers can have as much societal impact as the boomers that preceded us?
Meredith Bagby: In a way, we may have even more impact--and I think that has a lot to do with the power afforded to the individual through technology. Individually, we have so much more ability to create businesses on our own. There are many examples where [Xers] have been able to make a tremendous impact with very little capital or manpower.
Entrepreneur:As you point out in your book, Gen X is considered to be the most entrepreneurial generation in history. Why is this?
Bagby: We're people who came from divorced families, [or] both our parents worked and we were left alone a lot. So we had to fend for ourselves. That's part of it. Also, we saw our parents get downsized [out of jobs]. We don't trust corporations to give us a pension or to be there for us.
Entrepreneur:You also contend that, for Xers, work is a lifestyle. Can you explain that?
Bagby: There's sort of a blurring between work and home now because a lot of us are entrepreneurs or have flexible jobs that allow us to [telecommute]. I'm constantly amazed that the slacker image is still maintained, because if you look at the statistics, we are working a lot more hours than our parents did at our age.
Entrepreneur:As you say, the slacker image and other negative stereotypes have gotten a lot of play in the media. What--if anything--do you think the media have gotten right?
Bagby: We got really horrible press until about 1995, when they started doing articles on how this was the most entrepreneurial generation ever. That, I think, was right on. And to some extent, they got it right when they said we were apathetic about politics. As we get older and start to see how politics affects us, we're going to care more.
Entrepreneur:What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses of Gen X entrepreneurs?
Bagby: One strength is our knowledge of technology. Another strength is our independence--and our willingness to take risks. In terms of weaknesses, I think we sometimes find it hard to be team players.
Entrepreneur:Do you have a sense of what the legacy of Gen X will be--particularly in the business world?
Bagby: In general, I think the legacy will be one of individualism and entrepreneurship--both in government and business.
Entrepreneur:How do you distinguish Gen X from the generation coming up?
Bagby: Whether we like it or not, we're sort of a transitional generation. We grew up with computers, but we still grew up in a traditional world. What's interesting about Generation Y is they not only have computers but they also have the Internet. And those who've been really immersed in that technology have a completely different way of thinking--it's more chaotic and random.