Why today’s entrepreneurs are different.

Updated on 16 May 2016

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Why today's entrepreneurs are different - and why that could be a good thinHow do you define success? Is it achieving status and respect, earning good money, being happy and content, having fun? How we see success may depend on factors like how easy it is to get rewarding work, where we live in the world and even when we were born.  For example, if you’ve had a ‘Western’ upbringing, your definition of success may depend on whether you are considered to be a Millennial or a Gen-X.

And these factors often also determine how you feel about entrepreneurship. Studies into the attitudes of Western people born during the second half of last century suggest that people can be categorised roughly into one of two groups.

Generation X versus Millenials

Those who are now roughly 35 to 50 years old, the Generation Xers, grew up during fairly tough times where both parents had to work to make ends meet. Consequently, they tend to be independent, hard-working and appreciate what they have earned.  They grew up in a world of emerging technology of which they were generally apprehensive and were more comfortable in a structured environment.  An EY study says that their circumstances made Gen Xers good, driven entrepreneurial material.

Millennials (people in their early-20s to mid-30s), on the other hand, are often well educated and informed, they are usually tech-smart, connected and confident. Openness and purpose is important to them and they don’t just accept authority. They thrive in a world which is quick-and-lean, and that includes communication.

A Forbes article states that Millennials look for ‘purpose’ in work and relationships; they especially value family and collaboration.  All this affects how they view entrepreneurship.

“Gen Xers are often more established in their tried-and-tested ways, but Millennials know that those ways are no longer relevant in today’s digital world”

Gen Xers tend to prefer an organised, goal oriented approach with a properly prepared business plan and regularly updated financial statements. They like to be in control, almost obsessively.  “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”

Millennials prefer a more flexible work environment, maybe a laptop at a coffee shop where there’s free Wi-Fi. They are as ambitious but perhaps more innovative, working on the business rather than in it. They don’t slave for days getting a job just perfect, they get it up and running and improve it as they go. Success, too, is expected to be achieved quickly.

Finding common ground – is it possible? 

It’s difficult enough for entrepreneurs to work together as it is, and both Gen Xers and Millennials are inclined to be autonomous people as it is, but each comes from a life context that is totally foreign to the other.  As they are older, Gen Xers are often more established in their tried-and-tested ways, but Millennials know that those ways are no longer relevant in today’s digital world.

Our various backgrounds have a lot to do with our inability to find common ground.  From childhood, we learn to consider as normal that which is familiar: our family, our community, our culture, our ways.  What is different is disturbing, even wrong.  We may have difficulty accepting traditions, world-views that are different from our own.

We use different adjectives to describe the same trait as seen through different eyes: persevering/stubborn, flexible/inconsistent, lazy/chilled, independent/won’t collaborate.

How do two different generations collaborate when it appears that they don’t share a common work ethic?  For people of different generations to succeed in a common work environment, they need a common purpose and vision.  If they see the world through each other eyes, they may both discover that things are not as different as they seem.

So, what does success mean for you as an entrepreneur?  It’s really not that complex/difficult is it?

About the author: Rick Ed at age 60 sold his business to a younger and more energetic management team. He now educates entrepreneurs on strategic decision making and sales. Rick is a business advisor at DoBetter.Business.

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