Now that we’ve shared that Millennials can be significantly more than “punk kids” scraping along in the business world, it’s time to move into the previous generation of entrepreneurs.
In the second installment of this three-part series we unveil the historical influences that shaped each generation into the small business owners they are and can be. We’ll explore the caveats that can make or break an entrepreneur within each era. And finally, we’ll share some advice that can help Gen Xers thrive in the entrepreneurial environment.
Entrepreneurs can’t be stereotyped solely based on their generation. A Baby Boomer can start a tech company and a Millennial can forge the next real estate empire. But understanding the collective experiences of a generation can help entrepreneurs better navigate the obstacles that lay before them.
Generation X tends to fall off the map a little bit; the smallest generation and the chronological middle child, Gen X doesn’t immediately stand out to most as a generational pillar.
The middle aged crowd of today’s society has a rich background that makes them a hybrid of the distinctly technological Millennials and the characteristically conservative Baby Boomers. Their ability to understand and embrace both sides of the living timeline can make Gen Xers fierce adapters and indistinguishable competitors.
Generation X: 1960 – 1980
The clichés: Slackers, latchkey kids, cynics, followers, independents and workaholics
We’re Not in Kansas Anymore
While Wizard of Oz may have come out before the Baby Boomers, Gen Xers are really the ones who got picked up by a tornado: moms went to work, parents got divorced and civil rights really took root.
In 1964, the Civil Rights Act passed. In 1979, 1.18 million divorces occurred. Parents ended generations of life-long marriages and politicians addressed decades of legalized racism. Though civil rights and divorcing parents may seem like they have little to do with becoming an entrepreneur, the skillset Gen Xers gained in theirr youth bred a generation of chameleons.
They became the guinea pigs of the modern family and social change making them highly adaptable and independent.
How to use it: Gen X grew up in a time where new identities were dished out like Razzles. Products of Generation X don’t really fit with the Boomers or the Millennials, but amazingly, mold into either. Honing their trans-generational skills to build collaborative relationships with mentors and rising stars will be their biggest asset.
According to life coach and small business expert, Rick Clemons, forming intentional partnerships can be key for entrepreneurs.
“Don’t be afraid to collaborate. The beauty of collaboration is even if you have a great product or service, the more people you bring in the bigger your network and offering becomes,” says Clemons.
Gen X will find strength for their small business by bridging the generation gap and fitting in with either group. Tweet This!
Technology is Born
While Millennials get a lot of attention for their innovation and advancement, they aren’t the fathers and mothers of modern day technology. Though coveted positions with Google or Apple rank as the top 2 career aspirations of Millennials, with entrepreneurship as the third, those bits of technology genius that rule today’s world are Gen X’s monuments.
Apple I was introduced in 1976 and Larry Page of Google is a Gen Xer. Though you may not have been raised with a cell phone in your pocket, you’ve seen the complete evolution of technology.
The progression from getting a girl’s number scrawled on a napkin to Skype-ing with someone in another country is everything Back to the Future could have dreamed of and more.
“Gen X was raised on emerging technology,” says Gen Xer and entrepreneur, Jeff Stephens of CrazyDadLIfe.com. “We grew up cutting our teeth on early computers and video games and have seen the full evolution of technology over the years.”
How to use it: Early adopters of technology aren’t today’s teenagers who download every photo-based app ever made. It’s Gen X: the people who owned two-way pagers before “texting” was even a word. They’ve known modern technology in its earliest iterations.
Continuing to be an early, but thoughtful, adopter of technology will keep Gen Xers competitive. They’ve seen enough come and go to know what’s worthwhile and what’s a passing fad.
“Having that core knowledge and understanding of the inner workings [of technology] allows Gen Xers the ability to quickly take new technologies to a deeper level to adjust to their business needs,” says Stephens.
Motivation Meets Experience
While age alone gives Gen Xers the advantage over their younger counterparts, they likely have more career motivation than Millennials as well. Though the unemployment rate facing the most recent college grads is a driving force towards entrepreneurship, Gen X has a powerful factor to consider as well.
A survey by Gallup found that 73 percent of Baby Boomers don’t intend to retire before age 65. In decades past, the age of retirement has gone from 57 to 61 and will likely continue to rise, if this survey is any indication.
But what does it matter to Gen Xers if the Boomers don’t retire?
Gen X adults have spent 20 years developing and cultivating their careers and are aiming for executive positions as their next steps, but those positions that should open for them are still filled by Baby Boomers. And they could be for much longer than originally anticipated.This can breed job dissatisfaction in the form of malaise and bitterness to the point of career abandonment for Gen Xers.
How to use it: Every entrepreneur needs a kicker. If Gen Xers are itching for a reason to leave their job and jump into a small business, hitting a glass ceiling for career growth can be just the thing to do it. More powerful than a lack of a job, a lack of progress gives them the chance to choose.
While no one should ever make the decision to leave their job flippantly, knowing growth awaits, even if in another direction, can be the final motivator needed for Gen X to embrace their dreams.
With great abilities there will always be great weaknesses, and while adaptability, proper motivation and technical capabilities are an entrepreneurial secret sauce, Gen Xers aren’t perfect.
Your Millennial is Showing
As we mentioned earlier, Gen Xers have an amazing ability to blend well on opposing sides of the generational spectrum. That being said, they can also face the weaknesses of both the Baby Boomers’ and the Millennials’.
When it comes to jumping aboard the entrepreneur train, Millennials and Gen Xers tend to leap before they look. Being a generation born of technology, Gen X also struggles to turn a mountain of ideas into a functioning operation, according to Rick Clemons.
“Gen Xers have grown up with the Internet revolution, so anything that’s not in the palm of their hand or accessible by the Internet is just ludicrous to them,” says Clemons. “Gen X is very adept and can run very quickly, but they tend to lack the strategic mind behind their great ideas.”
Sound familiar, Millennials?
In many cases, it’s again a problem with patience. The instant gratification of technology has imbedded unrealistic expectations in the Gen X and younger generations.
What to watch out for: Similar to Millennials, Gen X will want to watch out for insisting on success long before it’s due to your small business. Unlike Millennials, you might have an extra layer of cockiness that exacerbates your impatience.
While Millennials also want immediate results from entrepreneurial endeavors, they don’t have the confidence of a twenty-year career convincing them it’s attainable. Be aware that a job in the corporate world is very different from starting your own business. Even if you’re not starting from scratch, there will be a lot to learn and certainly some bumps in the road.
Gen X has an amazing entrepreneurial spirit. OPENforum reported a study that found 40 percent of Gen X men and 25 percent of Gen X women want to eventually become entrepreneurs, and that’s not even considering all the Gen Xers who already are entrepreneurs.
We’ve been through two of three generations in the workforce now, so there’s only one left to go. Next find out how Baby Boomers turn from lifelong careers towards entrepreneurship. Can’t wait? Discover eight ways to grow your small business (no matter what generation you’re from) with this e-book.
How has your generation helped make your small business better?