Following the guidance of Ken Parker, a Willmar accountant, I spent a weekend in November with Susan Cheever’s American Bloomsbury, a portrait of Concord, Massachusetts, from the 1840s through the late 1860s.
Cheever reports that in modern Concord, two clapboard houses are set across the road from a large white home with a columned entrance. “At various times, these three houses were home to Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Bronson Alcott and his Daughter Louisa May, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Margaret Fuller.” Among their neighbors were Henry James, Emily Dickinson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Horace Mann. Their friends and colleagues included Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, Henry Ward Beecher, and Edgar Allan Poe. The population of Concord then was about 2,000. From the collaborations of its residents and their acquaintances came nearly every American literary masterpiece of the 19th century.
How did so much talent come to be clustered in one town? There is no clear answer. “Since Ancient Rome,” Cheever writes, “theories have been offered to explain why geniuses seem to be grouped together in specific times and locations.” She notes that the philosopher Velleius, writing about Plato, Aristotle, Aeschylus, Aristophanes, Euripides, and Sophocles, “speculated that geniuses inspire envy, which attracted younger men in two ways: They came for inspiration, and they came in the hope of equaling and surpassing those who would teach them.”
Although so-called “genius clusters” are relatively common (the title of Cheever’s book pays homage to the London neighborhood that was home to Virginia Woolf, E. M. Forster, and other writers in the early 1900s), modern research on the origins of unusual concentrations of talent is scarce. Even if the origins could be dissected, it might not mean that they could be replicated. Nevertheless, “genius clusters may not be random, as genius may attract genius,” wrote Dr. William Foege, former director of the Centers for Disease Control, in discussing another cluster—that of founding fathers Washington, Madison, Jefferson, and Franklin. In the case of Concord, Emerson seemed to be the guiding genius who held his community of friends together, partly by providing them with financial support.
Minnesota has been home to several remarkable business clusters. Fifty years after William Norris and 12 former Univac workers started Control Data in 1957, it would be easy to identify 50 companies that had been spun directly from Control Data or started by its former employees. Former employees of Earl Bakken’s Medtronic Corporation have started perhaps 100 medical-device companies. In the late 1980s, a catalog of Minnesota’s top 25 money management companies indicated that almost half had their origins in Investors Diversified Services (IDS), with which they shared a sector-rotation investment style. Successors of the 25 can be found among the dozens of companies represented by the Five-Star Wealth Managers spotlighted in this issue.
Brag, brag, brag. I didn’t want to bring this up, but my associates compel me to report that for the second consecutive year, Twin Cities Business received the gold award for “Overall Excellence” among larger-circulation business, trade, and professional publications at the 11th annual Excellence Awards presented by the Minnesota Magazine and Publications Association (MMPA).
In addition, the magazine received the gold award in five other categories—Best Feature Article, Best Overall Design, Best Single Cover, Best Use of Photography, and Best Special Issue or Supplement (the fall 2007 issue of Minnesota Biosciences)—plus six silver or bronze awards. Twin Cities Business received more first-place awards (six) and more total awards (12) than any other publication in the association. Five were for writing and editing, four were for design, and three for a combination of the two.
The MMPA comprises approximately 100 Minnesota-based magazine publishing companies. This year’s Excellence Awards attracted more than 700 entries from a cluster of 119 publications.