Learn from different generations

Travels with Jim follows Jim Huston around the country as he visits with landscapers and helps them understand their numbers to make smarter decisions.

Growing up in the 1950s in a small middle-class Pennsylvania town with fewer than 500 residents was a blast for my buddies and me. Our lives were filled with Little League baseball, Cub Scouts (later Boy Scouts), camping, fishing trips, swimming lessons, summer vacations to the shore and so forth. Post-WWII consumer products such as sporting goods, automobiles, toasters, washing machines, televisions and transistor radios were everywhere as wartime manufacturing was re-engineered to fill the demand of the burgeoning middle class.

In contrast, our parents grew up during the Roaring Twenties, survived the Great Depression of the 1930s and saved the world from Hitler and the Nazis during the 1940s. Our generation had amazing new technological wonders to experience while our parents had virtually nothing. Our life experiences couldn’t have been more different.

The experiences of the ’60s and ’70s tended to drive us further apart. The Cold War, the Vietnam war, Elvis, the Beatles, Woodstock and the transformation that took place in pop culture all added fuel to this divide. In spite of these differences, these two generations had much in common, but the commonality wasn’t something we talked about.

A gathering of aspirations.

They came from all over the country. Fifty-five individuals from 30 companies and 16 states gathered for two and a half days in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Their intent was to share common experiences and best practices at our annual winter brainstorming meeting. The ages of attendees ranged from the mid-20s to the mid-60s. Seven (almost one quarter) of the owners were Millennials in their 20s or 30s.

As I observed the interactions of the attendees, it amazed me how differently the younger ones processed information compared to their older counterparts. The Millennials constantly texted on their smartphones, and took notes and captured images on their iPads. They were accessing the Internet to research ideas, verify facts and locate resources.

But it didn’t stop there. These entrepreneurs made great use of technology in their businesses. Many use software in their businesses to schedule, route and track their crews. This combined with GPS tracking, estimating, job costing and design software helps them create an efficient administration process.

Two questions.

As I observed the attendees at our brainstorming meeting, the differences in life experiences of three generations (my parents’ generation, my generation and the Millennials’ generation) struck me. Two questions came to mind:

1. What can older-generation owners learn from Millennial owners?

a. First, as our culture changes and technology improves, we need to make efforts to study and learn from those with a fresh but perhaps very different perspective. We need to understand our own perspective but be willing to grow beyond it.

b. These young entrepreneurs work as hard, dream as big and embrace constant improvement as much as (and perhaps even more than) my generation.

c. These business owners love and believe in this country, its values and the opportunity it provides us.

2. What can young entrepreneurs learn from veteran business owners?

a. Context: Like many entrepreneurs, young entrepreneurs tend to have a blind side. They are great with technology, but they often do not understand how all the pieces of a business fit together. More experienced owners can help them here.

b. Managing people: Leadership is better caught than taught. You don’t learn it from reading a book. Youthful impatience quite often hinders such development. Coaching from a seasoned veteran can greatly reduce the learning curve.

c. Experience may be the best teacher but preferably someone else’s. Seek wise counsel and be proactive when it comes to learning. Be teachable and pursue wisdom from others.


Just as my generation (the baby boomers) saw and experienced the world from a very different perspective than did our parents, so too do younger entrepreneurs today see and experience the world from a very different point of view. While both perspectives are valid, perspectives do have a shelf life of sorts. They tend toward obsolescence and they lose their freshness over time, as technology evolves.

You may be 25 or you may be 75. We all need to be proactive as we listen and learn from one another. Doing so will help us all pursue the opportunity that this great country offers. Don’t be like the man who died at age 25, but wasn’t buried until age 75.

Jim Huston runs J.R. Huston Consulting, a green industry consulting firm.

April 2018
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