The Power of Ideas

We shine a light on Boston’s new power class: the visionaries, idealists, and thinkers among us whose insights are transforming the way we live, work, learn, and play.

Icons & Visionaries

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Photograph by Jeff Brown. Styling by Maryelle O’Rourke/Team.


Marty Walsh
Mayor, City of Boston

Leading a city requires more than just power, and winning elections requires more than merely growing one’s base. That’s especially true here in Boston, where the traditional bases of political power are rapidly shifting, and change is a given. Voters are smarter. Ideas matter to them. And even in the first 100 days, there are signs that ideas matter to the Walsh administration. That Boston is stronger when it looks outside its borders. That a modern city should stay open late and public transit should keep up. That a police force, and a government, should reflect the city it serves.

To say that the mayor of Boston belongs on Boston magazine’s power list is self-evident. The more interesting question—the fascinating idea at the heart of this issue—is how he got here in the first place.

Even in the first 100 days of the Walsh administration, there are signs that ideas matter.

The idea was simple: To help yourself, help everyone else. Walsh began by helping his union brothers and sisters—as a member, an advocate, and then a leader. As a state rep, he helped his constituents within the enormous neighborhood of Dorchester, where about 20 percent of the city’s residents reside. As someone who’s been sober since 1995, he helped countless others in recovery, something he quietly continues to this day. Not surprisingly, these people became his groundswell—his army.

When it was time for his own race for mayor, Walsh’s army fought for their own. By that time, they realized it was their fight. Because power need not be hoarded by one; it can be harvested to empower many. —Mike Ross, former city councilor and mayoral candidate


power of ideas 1 elizabeth warren

Illustration by Joel Kimmel


Elizabeth Warren

“Today the game is rigged,” Warren writes in her new memoir, A Fighting Chance, “rigged to work for those who have money and power.” The game of which she speaks, of course, is America. And in a few short years, Warren’s ideas—that Wall Street banks and big corporations are screwing the middle class, and that Washington is little more than a lobbyist watering hole—have transformed progressive politics, not just in New England but around the country. “Whether or not Elizabeth Warren ever runs for the presidency,” The Nation opined recently, “she is teaching her party a great deal about how to take the events of a moment and weave them into a narrative.”


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Photograph by Jeff Brown. Styling by Maryelle O’Rourke/Team.


John Henry
Owner, the Boston Globe

When Henry struck a deal to buy the Boston Globe last fall, it was a home run for the long-suffering news business. With his checkbook, Henry made the point that great journalism is worth investing in. And from his newfound pulpit, he declared not only that journalism could be saved—but also that the Globe would become the laboratory driving its resurrection. How? Well, absent a silver-bullet solution, he’s overhauled management to bring in big-thinking talent from both the advertising and media worlds, and embarked on a string of innovative products: a new, standalone Catholic news site, a rebooted, and the possibility of a Globe TV station. Who knows if those particular ideas will work, but one thing is certain: There will be more of them.


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Photograph by Jeff Brown. Styling by Maryelle O’Rourke/Team.


John Fish
Chairman and CEO, Suffolk Construction

Fish has had a perennial place on our list. Let’s face it: During the Menino mayoralty, he was the man to know. Now he’s heading up Boston’s 2024 Olympic bid, and rethinking the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce as its new chairman. We asked Boston’s biggest builder why he’s throwing his energy at these two projects.

On Bringing the Olympics to Boston: “I start with the question: What is the city of Boston going to look like in 30 or 40 years? It involves thinking big—not just thinking about where we’ve been and where we’re going, but thinking a little abnormally. We may never realize the Olympics in 2024, but the opportunity to bring the community together to talk about the future is a powerful thing.”

On Rethinking the Chamber of Commerce: “We need to think about how we have a conversation about regionalization—I don’t think it’s helpful to take a Boston-centric point of view. If we help out other communities in Massachusetts, and if those areas do well, Boston will be the beneficiary of their success. And that will enhance opportunities for all.”



Errol Morris
Documentary Filmmaker

As an author, Morris has been obsessed with the notion that photographs often lie. His documentaries are obsessed with lies, too, like the Oscar-winning The Fog of War (2003), about Vietnam War architect Robert McNamara, and The Thin Blue Line (1988), which garnered the release of a Texas inmate on death row. His latest, The Unknown Known, focuses on another icon of infallible self-truths: Donald Rumsfeld. Morris has an uncanny ability to probe and wait out his interviewees until they reveal surprising insights… or hang themselves.


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Illustration by Joel Kimmel


Yo-Yo Ma

The Cambridge-based classical-music superstar is one of the country’s most eloquent voices on the idea that culture is essential for a healthy democracy. “The arts,” Ma told an audience at the Kennedy Center last April, “foster the four critical skills necessary for our children to succeed in the 21st-century workforce: collaboration, flexibility, imagination, innovation.”



Anant Agarwal
CEO, edX

When edX launched in 2012, it floated a big, bold, revolutionary concept: Give away Harvard and MIT’s prestigious courses online, for free, to anyone in the world. Two years later, the concept of MOOCs—“massive open online courses”—is transforming higher education, both inside and outside the classroom. Today, edX has more than 130 “blended” courses, in which teachers supplement in-class exercises with videos, virtual labs, and gamification. Agarwal sees future classrooms as interactive environments. And that future is not far off.



Henry Louis Gates
Harvard Professor

A pioneer in the field of African-American studies, Gates has long been one of the nation’s preeminent thinkers about the nexus of ancestry and culture. His influence spans mediums—he was a consultant on 12 Years a Slave, is a cofounder of the online magazine the Root, and hosts a PBS series on genealogy. A donor’s recent $15 million gift to consolidate Harvard’s African and African-American studies programs only expands his reach. If there’s a central tenet to all of Gates’s work, it’s this: To understand yourself, you need to know where you came from.


power of ideas 4 doris kearns goodwin

Photograph by Jeff Brown. Styling by Maryelle O’Rourke/Team.


Doris Kearns Goodwin and Jill Lepore

If anyone in Boston is making the case that academic ideas matter in the real world, it’s historians Kearns Goodwin (pictured) and Lepore, who are to historical scholarship what Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis were to jazz: two very different kinds of genius whose shared art form has become crucial to the culture at large. Back in 2008, Senator Barack Obama devoured Kearns Goodwin’s presidential biographies—especially her book on Lincoln, Team of Rivals—which many say influenced his choice to appoint Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. Meanwhile, Lepore writes on a wider variety of subjects, from King Philip’s War to the modern Tea Party movement, but it’s clear she takes her role just as seriously. “To be a public historian,” she wrote recently, “is to be a keeper of our memory as a people.” Between the two of them, it seems like we’re in good hands.



Diane Paulus
American Repertory Theater

Fresh off her 2013 Tony win with Pippin for best director of a musical, Paulus has once again asserted herself as a theatrical force. Under her leadership, the A.R.T. has become a springboard to Broadway (three shows now playing on the Great White Way were first staged in Cambridge), and her sensational new productions, like this year’s Witness Uganda, have brought audiences back to the theater at a time when just getting people to show up is half the battle. Paulus’s unique pedigree as both a Broadway vet and Harvard academic has helped her stage musicals with mass appeal, a point of contention among her avant-garde critics. Yet her vision is clear: The show must go on, and be spectacular in the process.


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Illustration by Joel Kimmel


Tim Berners-Lee, Larry Lessig, and Nicholas Negroponte

It’s easy to forget that the Web, as we know it, was born here. This past March, MIT professor Tim Berners-Lee marked the 25th anniversary of his groundbreaking invention—and he continues to be a vocal, thoughtful arbiter of its future, having recently proposed an online Magna Carta to encode values to the Web. Harvard Law professor Larry Lessig’s career is grounded in his role as an Internet crusader. He revolutionized intellectual property and copyright law, advocated for net neutrality, and has now set his sights on the corrosive influence of money in politics. Nicholas Negroponte is looking forward: The MIT Media Lab and One Laptop Per Child founder has plans to use stationary satellites to expand Web access to “the last billion” people without the Internet.