Around May, Nief disappears into the library stacks and spends weeks in front of microfiche machines (a technology no doubt doomed to appear on the Mindset List before long). He scans through periodicals from the students’ birth year — Rolling Stone, The Wall Street Journal and Advertising Age, among others — to study not only the headlines but the advertisements of the time. “After weeks of doing the list, I get to a point where I don’t know what year I’m living in,” Nief says. There have been points when the men have wished for a time machine to change the course of human events they are revisiting: leaving Bill Buckner at first base in the 1986 World Series, early confusion over the AIDS virus, New Coke. Alas, they can merely contemplate how those events changed the lives of the freshmen-to-be. “You wonder what’s going on right now, beneath our noses, that will affect the class of 2035, born this year,” McBride says.
McBride delves into the academic research that has scrutinized the generation at hand. He then heads straight to the source. “We’re talking more to first-year college students and sophomores as well as their parents,” he says. “That’s how we realized last year that [teenagers] don’t own a radio anymore. They almost entirely listen to radio online.”
Technology plays a far more significant role now than in the list’s early, dial-up-Internet days. The Mindset List is as well-connected on social networks as its subjects, with a Facebook page, a Twitter feed and a blog, as well as its original website that still gets more than a million hits a year.
“One reason the Mindset List has taken off in the sphere of an information society is that change seems to occur so rapidly now,” McBride says. “People are made to feel old much faster now because the milestones are changing a mile a minute. Looking at the list from 15 years ago, it appears that you’re looking at an ancient culture.”
Those generation gaps certainly fuel some fun water-cooler chatter (“What do you mean they never had a film camera?”), but they can also spark meaningful conversations. In keynote speeches and workshops across the country, Nief and McBride address such important topics as “The Five Mistakes Managers Make with Gen Y in the Workplace and How to Avoid Them.”