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We May Not Need a Slogan (But Here's a Great One)

Posted by Scott Kirsner  September 30, 2009 07:22 AM

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duplin.jpgWhen Danielle Duplin used to work in electronics warfare at the MIT Lincoln Laboratory in Lexington, she lived in the North End.

"I'd walk out my door right next to the Old North Church and drive to work thinking, 'I'm basically driving the same route where Paul Revere rode his horse.'"

Now, Duplin works at Fidelity Investments, in a building next door to South Station. "Our office looks out over the place where the Boston Tea Party took place," she says.

With her colleague Sean Belka, Duplin came up with what I think is an excellent phrase to capture the true spirit of Boston: "Revolutionary ideas start here." (It was first used back in July at the inaugural TEDx Boston event as part of a short introductory video.)

"We're blessed to be in this city with deep roots for American democracy -- and the spirit of entrepreneurship," she says.

Boston was the petri dish of the revolution, and in the following century the first use of surgical anesthesia at Mass General, and the century after that the first use of chemotherapy to conquer leukemia. Boston was the business center that spawned the first commercial bank in the country, the modern mutual fund, and the first venture capital firm. The first American newspaper was published here, and now Boston start-ups like GlobalPost are trying to re-imagine journalism for the digital age. The first videogame was developed at MIT in the 1960s, and "Rock Band," the top-selling game of 2008, was developed by two MIT alums. Alexander Graham-Bell placed the first telephone call in Boston in 1876, and in 1971 Cambridge researcher Ray Tomlinson wrote the software that allowed e-mail messages to be sent from one computer to another over the Arpanet, the Internet's predecessor. (It was Tomlinson who selected the @ sign for e-mail addresses.)

Revolutionary ideas seem to be what we've been good at generating, from the 18th century to the 21st. Which is why the phrase "revolutionary ideas" really resonates with me. "Revolution is sometimes bloody, and sometimes, you're staring into the abyss," says Belka, who runs the Fidelity Center for Applied Technology, the group at Fidelity that evaluates new technologies for potential use by the company and its customers.

Often, an innovative Bostonian helps spread a revolutionary idea around the world, whether it's organ transplantation or car-sharing. Sometimes, the idea creates a big hometown company, like Fidelity or Genzyme, and sometimes it creates a company that eventually gets acquired by an outsider (like E Ink, the pioneer of electronic paper.)

And a few more things I like about "revolutionary ideas start here": it embraces both academia and commerce; it works equally well for Boston or Massachusetts or the whole of New England; and it wasn't cooked up by a committee or consortium. Duplin and Belka assure me Fidelity has no plans to trademark the phrase, either.

You may not think we need a slogan or rallying cry for our exceptionally innovative corner of the world, but you have to admit: "Revolutionary ideas start here" is a pretty good one.

Or perhaps you have a better idea? Comments welcome...

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14 comments so far...
  1. This is a fantastic idea. As someone said to me last night about something else: "It's so obvious - it has to be a good idea!"

    Posted by Bill Shander September 30, 09 09:10 AM
  1. Scott-

    Not sure if you're familiar with the 5th Century Trustees or if you've seen this (, but your entry here immediately reminded me of it. It's a report about the history of Boston and its innovate nature. The report contends that Boston has reinvented itself 9 times and may be heading for a 10th era now.

    Enjoyed your panel last night as well.


    Jason Evanish

    Posted by Jason Evanish September 30, 09 11:26 AM
  1. With all due respect to Robin Chase and success of Zipcar, the "revolutionary idea" of car sharing surely has little to do with Boston, and hasn't really been spread very far by Zipcar. Except in Boston itself, perhaps New York and a duffle-bag full of university towns, Zipcar was not an original idea, and simply brought marketing muscle, a well-refined technology and an A-type ego backed up by a Texas-sized PR effort to an existing industry. Yes, they are the biggest and best known brand in the USA, but it is a very different story elsewhere in the world, where car sharing has been growing strongly for over 20 years (and Zipcar is often a junior player, or absent entirely).

    Posted by Kevin McLaughlin September 30, 09 12:56 PM
  1. Love it. And so much better than the "128 Belt" and "Dot.Commonwealth" tags of the past.

    And yes, I was also at last night's panel session. Scott was spot on as usual.

    Posted by KAEK September 30, 09 01:06 PM
  1. No question, a great slogan, assuming we need one:)

    At the same time, I've got to add a comment regarding your list of local innovations. I'm sure everyone has their favorites, or ones that seem "most" important. Frankly, I think the spreadsheet courtesy of Dan Bricklin ( & Bob Frankston ( should be high up on all these lists. For all practical purposes, the spreadsheet spawned the proliferation of personal (desktop) computers, etc....

    Posted by David Solomont September 30, 09 02:39 PM
  1. I agree, David. VisiCalc was the app that helped catapult computers into the workplace. And there's a plaque at Harvard Business School, where Bricklin originally conceived of VisiCalc, that calls it the "original 'killer app' of the information age," which "forever changed how people use computers in business."

    Posted by Scott Kirsner September 30, 09 02:48 PM
  1. Great slogan!

    I'd be even more interested to hear a nickname for the place that can rival the emotive qualities of "Silicon Valley".

    Something particularly focused on the Red Line from Davis (Tufts) to JFK/UMass (UMass Boston Venture Development Center), maybe?

    Just one example, but since Y Combinator left Boston in January, five solid incubators (some who have been around for a while) have filled the hole: TechStars, Dogpatch, Cambridge Innovation Center, Kickstart by thoughtbot, Betahouse.

    All of those are located between only 4 stops on the Red Line: Central, Kendall, Charles/MGH, Park.

    Posted by Dan Croak September 30, 09 03:18 PM
  1. What happened to the "MA, It's all here" campaign?

    Posted by Bobbie Carlton September 30, 09 06:13 PM
  1. "Lighting the way for revolutionary ideas," the slogan for the October 9th QUEST for Innovation sponsored by Highland Capital Partners, is an action-oriented variation for those of us building Boston's innovation ecosystem.

    UMass Boston Venture Development Center is fielding two QUEST teams. Join the QUEST and practice what we preach!

    Posted by William Brah October 1, 09 08:00 AM
  1. "Revolutionary ideas start here." says it all. It goes beyond technology or the mutual fund or chemo, and leaves room for a greater good that bows to our puritan roots here in New England. Silicon Valley blech, count me out!

    Posted by Maria Simoneau October 1, 09 11:04 AM
  1. I think it's a great slogan and the Freedom Trail Foundation would be happy to use it. We're currently using: Freedom Trail , it's American history, but not the same old story. Good idea.

    Posted by Mimi LLa Camera October 1, 09 12:11 PM
  1. Boston has been a major source innovative and revolutionary ideas since it's founding. Unfortunately most Bostonians, let alone others, don't fully realize the extent to which innovative and revolutionary ideas originated in Massachusetts.

    Two ideas:

    1) the Freedom Trail is a popular tourist attraction, but it largely celebrates people and events. History should be about the struggle between ideas, ideals and values, and how these eventually shaped our society. For example, one can draw a direct connection between the Mass Bay Colony's emphasis on universal education (which in itself can be traced back to the persecution of the Puritans by Queen Mary, via congregationalism) and the emergence of democracy in the US. Let's be proud of the revolutionary ideas that first gained ground in Massachusetts, and add them to the information provided along the Freedom Trail.

    2) let's have an Innovation Trail that links sites associated with all the (commercial) innovations that saw birth in the Boston area. I beleive it could become a popular tourist attraction if done and marketed properly.

    Posted by Peter Flentov October 2, 09 12:42 PM
  1. I'd try to work the word "begin" into it, remembering Capt. Parker and the Lexington militia. Quick spot: [voice over] "if you mean to have a revolution"--(visual: succession of still images representing Bostonian firsts, accelerating to a final live-action shot from behind a buckskin and home-spun clad rank of soldiers, down the barrels of their muskets, toward a row of incredulous British Regulars) [blackout; musket volley FX] [title card "Massachusetts", pause, add second line "Where revolutionary ideas begin"]

    Posted by Michael Ruderman October 5, 09 02:03 PM
  1. Maybe it really should be -- "Revolutionary ideas start here, then get monetized and funded elsewhere...." Facebook, etc...

    Posted by Max October 7, 09 11:29 AM


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About Scott Kirsner

Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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