There is an almost endless list of quotes, attributed to various statesmen, about those who don’t know history. The quotes throw around scary phrases like “destiny” and “doom” and being “condemned”.
But what if you do want to repeat history? At least some of the good stuff? All those amazing inventions and innovations from past geniuses? What if you want to see what previous inventors and innovators did? How they captured their ideas? Brought them to market? Even how they grew up and were educated? There are lots of clues about the whereabouts and formation of the elusive innovative spark.
We started running the Mass Innovation Nights events in 2009 (coming up on our 12th anniversary in March and April) at the Charles River Museum of Industry & Innovation. It was the perfect place for our events. Not only did it have cool space among the exhibits to place tables for our early events, and a much larger ballroom upstairs for our larger events, it also leant itself to providing historical context and inspiration. Early innovation showed us the way.
This is one reason I jumped right on the opportunity to interview the authors of Boston Made: From Revolution to Robotics, Innovations that Changed the World, Dr. Robert M. Krim and Alan R. Earls. The book is a result of more than 20 years of work by Krim. He researched more than 600 Boston area innovations, whittled it down to 400 and the book represents the top 50.
Of course, I previously knew Alan Earls from his years at Mass High Tech (R.I.P. MHT – you were much beloved and thank you Boston Business Journal for carrying the torch.) Alan also wrote a book about America’s High Technology Highway: “Route 128 and the Birth of the Age of High Tech”. This book was the basis for an exhibit at the Museum. (Ever feel like your life is a highway where all things converge?)
We invited Krim and Earls to join us on our Monday morning Space (an audio-only app we have been using for a weekly gathering) conversation on February 22. We weren’t able to get Alan’s audio working but did have a great conversation with Bob (check out the recording and you can join us for other conversations weekly at 9:00 am or listen to the recordings later). Later in the afternoon, I was able to get both of them on a Zoom call and record the conversation there.
This story wouldn’t be complete without a shoutout to Scott Kirsner as well. I recently bought his book, “Innovation Economy: True Stories of Start-ups, Flame-outs and Inventing the Future in New England.” His book, a compilation of columns (not just from the Globe) ranges from a 1998 Wired Magazine article “Murder by Internet” in the True Crime section and a 1999 Globe feature on how small businesses were using the internet to interviews with famous innovators and even a section with pandemic-related stories.
Scott also reviewed Boston Made and says “Bob Krim knows more about the innovations born in Boston than anyone else.” With a twinkle in my eye, I will ask him to recall who won the First Pandemic Scott Kirsner Boston Innovation Economy/Innovation Leaders Trivia contest, (possibly not its official name) even beating John Landry, Dan Bricklin and Laura Fitton. (OK, I did have some help: my older son who has been helping around Innovation Nights when not in school for the last several years knows and retains stuff I’ve forgotten. P.S. If you want to win future Boston trivia contests, see me. His services are for sale. I.e. He’s graduated and looking for work that doesn’t involve working for MOM.)
Here’s to the “documenting the secret sauce to Boston’s innovation success.” Enjoy!