It is a truism in career development that you should only do one thing and do it well. You don’t want to pursue multiple business endeavors—that would scatter your energy. Offer a consistent image to the world. Focus.
When I moved back to Cambridge for my sabbatical at MIT, where I earned a doctorate in engineering a decade ago, I thought I knew what to expect. The revitalization of Kendall Square, the Innovation District in South Boston, the new MBTA stop in Somerville, pharmaceutical companies building their new headquarters within walking distance of the Charles River, Google opening an office nearby: I was aware of all these. They were aligned with Greater Boston’s brand as an innovation hub in science and engineering. Left-brain innovation, I call it. For me, that was Greater Boston’s One Thing.
But I was most struck, after I came back, by the amount of right-brain innovation going on—new arts-related offerings that customers pay for. (It is not innovation if it doesn’t have marketplace value.) Everybody knows Boston’s reputation in science, technology, and engineering. But an innovative mindset is sustained by right-brain activities: spend an hour at the museum or two in a theater and view the world differently, especially if the cultural offerings are on the cutting edge. Of course, Boston has all the events that residents count on in a metropolis: open artists’ studios on First Fridays, a book festival every October, a film festival, a jazz festival, community programs at local museums, authors’ events at indie bookstores, and so on. Every large city with any hope to attract the educated, however, does the same. I like to think that Boston is more successful at it—I’ll argue that the Boston events involve writers and artists of a caliber rarely seen elsewhere—but those events alone don’t make Boston special. What does is the role of new works in the city’s cultural scene, and what they mean about Boston’s identity.