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Knowing our differences helps to bridge them

The Mindset 2017 list comes out Tuesday. Meant originally for professors to help them relate to incoming freshmen, Beloit College's annual reminder that cultural benchmarks shift — and more rapidly every year — has itself become a cultural benchmark.

The Mindset List, now a registered trademark with book spinoffs and a blog, started as a circulating email to faculty in 1997 — you know, one of those "you've got to see this!" emails people forward. At first a curiosity, you can bet this year's list will be featured as a "light and bright" news items everywhere from NPR to Fox.

But it's anything but light and bright. The list is a brutal reminder that as time passes, it becomes difficult for the generations to bridge a widening cultural divide.

Consider these items from the past five years, lists 2009-2013, which produced a number of your recent job applicants and new hires. (Note: The year refers to the graduation date, not the year a list is compiled.)

Ebooks have always existed. The Soviet Union has never existed. Carbon copies and faxing are relics of the past. News comes from Stewart and Colbert. Harry Potter was never new. James Bond has always been old.

You get the idea. We're already in an era where "Seinfeld" is retro, cyberschools are just another option, texting is replacing email for primary communication, and Vine is competing with YouTube. (And some baby boomers still aren't on email! Talk about being left behind.)

As we age, we tend to forget that one generation's defining moment is a page — or less — in a history book for the next. This year will mark 50 years since President Kennedy was shot; next year will be the 40th since President Nixon resigned and since the Vietnam War ended. People still in the workforce who remember those events are close to retiring or at least beginning to think about it.

When Bush v. Gore was before the U.S. Supreme Court, the tail end of the millennial generation was barely crawling — and they're about to be superseded by the cohort known various as Generation Z or the Net Generation.

Younger generations may be curious about the past, but most don't care viscerally. Try explaining the political and social turmoil of the 1960s to a young professional who has only experienced the impact of the 2007-2009 recession and its aftermath.

I think that's why it's so much easier for politicians to go after government social programs today. There's no one left in power who remembers seeing a shanty town or a bread line during the Great Depression. It's why we can begin to have a debate on the consequences of the Patriot Act and NSA surveillance. Today's high school seniors were entering kindergarten when the Twin Towers fell on 9/11. Memories don't fade, they just don't transfer emotionally intact.

Point of view is everything when it comes to priorities, attitudes and assumptions.

So how can Mindset help you? Whether you're a millennial yourself, someone with younger co-workers or the person managing a demographically diverse team, "the list" can be a real conversation starter. As the Beloit professors behind Mindset suggest to teachers and counselors, even a simple "do you agree with this?" can help you find common ground.

And that can only be good for teamwork.

There has "always" been a Mindset list now, and its progenitors have adapted. Mindset started as an email, when email was used mostly by academics and government researchers. Today it's a cultural meme, with its own Facebook page — which is where the list for 2017 will be posted (just after midnight Central time) — and is on Twitter @MindsetList.

The week ahead

The Aug. 23 issue of the Business Journal is devoted to inclusion in the workplace, with a special emphasis on women in corporate leadership. A number of the midstate's female business leaders talked to us about their careers and the importance of getting and keeping multiple points of view in the boardroom and in the workplace.

Meanwhile, find networking opportunities here.

The rewind

Among the top-viewed posts on our website last week was an "Out of the Ordinary" item that features a video on how to use the Internet. It's another reminder of how far we've come in just 15 years.

Notice how slow the video is. It lingers forever on introductory slides, the cutting from scene to scene is at tortoise pace and the graphics are clunky. So in addition to how comical the explanations seem today (not to mention the clothes, hairstyles and furniture), it's a reminder of how rapidly we do just about everything today. There were no 15-second TV commercials in 1997.

It all makes me remember how proud I was when I ditched IE and switched to Netscape. Those were the days!

And in case you missed it, this week we posted a series of videos to complement the content of our Top 100 Private Companies issue, which came out Aug. 9.

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