The Long Game


Old places can accomplish new things.

Boston and Tokyo are both about 400 years old. Yet we’re different when it comes to planning for the future. Not long ago, Tokyo finished building a new island in its harbor, and a new city on that island, complete with a subway system that runs without human intervention. The goal? Explore what its future might look like by building “a showcase for future living.”

Closer to home, Toronto recognized a few years ago that it was losing ground in the sciences, so it deleted two-square kilometers of its downtown and replaced it with the Mars Discovery District, a vast collection of intertwined university research facilities, commercial research space, and the best biotech incubator space I’ve ever seen—and I’m an incubator guy.

Tokyo and Toronto prove it’s possible for places to set ambitious goals and achieve them.

Recently, at the Nantucket Conference, I interviewed a successful Boston-area CEO who reminded me that smart organizations think long-term. With sales of over $500M, Robert Keane’s 15-year-old Vistaprint dominates its sector. Yet he remarked, “We are a young company. This is the beginning of the Vistaprint story. Our management’s perspective is decades, not years.”

Greater Boston should take a page from Tokyo, Toronto, and business leaders like Robert Keane, and dedicate energy to thinking long term and thinking big.

Let’s not kid ourselves: we haven’t been doing this lately. Other than putting a car tunnel underground and creating a ‘subway line’ that looks suspiciously like a bus service, I can’t think of much we’ve done in the past 20 years that one could fairly describe as BIG.

Visions for our future in the Boston area will not be handed to us on a platter by President Obama, or anybody else. We need to craft them ourselves. It is time we began a dialogue about what we would like to accomplish together. I invite Xconomy readers to share here their personal grand visions for our future. What should we set our sights on?

Xconomist Tim Rowe is Founder and CEO of Cambridge Innovation Center. Follow @rowe

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10 responses to “The Long Game”

  1. Tim RoweTim Rowe says:

    Let me propose that we use “brainstorming” ground-rules for this discussion:
    – one idea per comment
    – no criticism of others’ ideas

    This is the best way to get ideas flowing. Later we can ask Xconomy to do a roundup of the ideas presented, and we can debate them.

    Lets get the big ideas that are in people’s heads out into the public eye.

    If there are none, that will tell us something, won’t it?

  2. I’m not thinking so much about physical space (Boston has many extremely unique virtues on that front), but mindspace. How do we establish Boston as a center for innovation, to attract and retain the best and brightest? Not everyone can visit Boston, or Tokyo, but we have an rich impression, nonetheless. At the end of the day, that impression can be deeply affected by the companies and products that come out of a place. Tokyo: Consumer Electronics. New York: Media, Wall Street. Austin: Software. Minneapolis: HealthCare. Detroit: Cars. I am deeply biased, given the business I work in, but I believe grabbing mindshare for consumer internet innovation is the most efficient and powerful way to do this. Build experiences that people (journalists, students, technologists etc.) really use: Google, Apple, Twitter, Facebook shape the current Silicon Valley impressions. We have a sizeable core of interesting consumer internet ventures in Boston to build upon and establish real mindshare. Let’s go!

  3. Ben Sutton says:

    A commitment to becoming one of the first truly ‘green’ cities of the world. This will attract international talent who will desire working towards our sustainable efforts, as well as helping to retain the brilliant students who graduate from our local universities and colleges every year.

    Boston is already a hub innovation and where green tech firms meet LEED certified buildings. A grand and widely supported initiative toward sustainability would propel us well into the 21st century as a global leader of innovation.

  4. Noah Bullock says:

    An enclosed, multi-tiered rain forest greenhouse/biodome running the length of the Rose Kennedy Green Way.

    No direct effect on technology incubation, certainly, but Boston could use more in the way of ‘really effing cool’ features/attractions.

    Alternately: A colossus standing astride the harbor.

  5. Boston’s strength is healthcare. We could lose this lead as healthcare becomes less clinician driven during the coming reform. Taking the lead in the reform of delivery of healthcare would provide growth. Because the Massachusetts legislature has created the equivalent of national healthcare on a local scale we have the perfect sandbox to experiment with the needs of the nation.

  6. hubbers says:

    Please don’t use Vistaprint or recommend it to your readers.

    Using Vistaprint could very likely lead to you being signed up to FAKE discount clubs and hundreds of dollars benig taken from you Visa/bank without your knowledge or permission.

    I have a huge blog post with all the details of all of the different scamming sites Vistaprint and Adaptive Affinity run and how best to get a refund.

    If you don’t believe me check this blog (on google cache since the site is now closed) and the hundreds of comments form people who have been ripped off!

    According to the Washington Post this negative option selling scam earned the parent company Ventura $650 million in revenue in 2006.

    If you have already used Vistaprint, start checking your bank statements.

  7. D says:

    Have you seen the Koch Institute? Boston has MIT and Harvard and the many other affiliated healthcare/life sciences institutions still powering our high-tech profile and “spirit”. I think Boston is fine. But there is nothing wrong with pushing yourself.

    More Greenspace is always nice. Freshly paved roads and initiatives for making boston a green car zone by 2020 would be cool for me. I know people want Big changes; especially entrepreneurs because they are slightly ADD (and I mean that in the best way possible). But Bigger isn’t always better especially if there isn’t a point to the project in the first place.

    How about Boston and Cambridge Free WiFi.

  8. Andy B says:

    Mine’s a mash-up of some of the above:

    1) As it stands, Boston is a great physical place with history, ocean and green space galore. Don’t mess with success.

    2) Boston is itself a unique mash-up, with a dense combo of clusters in medical, biotech, high tech and academia. Let’s do virtual things that leverage the richness of these combined resources

    3) Lastly, who could argue with Noah’s colossus ?!?

  9. jake harrison says:

    I just discovered this site which covers a lot of cool ground for the T.

    I’d also like a serious network of bike paths, maybe even a dedicated, plowed path along each highway.