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#264 The Story of Edwin Land and Polaroid
August 24th, 2022 | E264

What I learned from rereading Instant: The Story of Polaroid by Christopher Bonanos. 


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(0:01) The most obvious parallel is to Apple Computer.

Both companies specialized in relentless, obsessive refinement of their technologies. Both were established close to great research universities to attract talent.

Both fetishized superior, elegant, covetable product design. And both companies exploded in size and wealth under an in-house visionary-godhead-inventor-genius.

At Apple, that man was Steve Jobs. At Polaroid, the genius was Edwin Land.

Just as Apple stories almost all lead back to Jobs, Polaroid lore always seems to focus on Land.

(1:22) Both men were college dropouts; both became as rich as anyone could ever wish to be; and both insisted that their inventions would change the fundamental nature of human interaction.

(1:37) Jobs expressed his deep admiration for Edwin Land. He called him a national treasure.

(3:12) All the podcasts on Edwin Land:

Land's Polaroid: A Company and the Man Who Invented It by Peter C. Wensberg (Founders #263)

A Triumph of Genius: Edwin Land, Polaroid, and the Kodak Patent War by Ronald Fierstein (Founders #134)

Land's Polaroid: A Company and the Man Who Invented It by Peter C. Wensberg (Founders #133)

The Instant Image: Edwin Land and the Polaroid Experience by Mark Olshaker (Founders #132)

Insisting On The Impossible: The Life of Edwin Land and Instant: The Story of Polaroid (Founders #40)

(4:07) Becoming Steve Jobs: The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart into a Visionary Leader by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli

(5:51) Edwin Land of Polaroid talked about the intersection of the humanities and science. I like that intersection. There's something magical about that place. There are a lot of people innovating, and that's not the main distinction of my career. The reason Apple resonates with people is that there's a deep current of humanity in our innovation. I think great artists and great engineers are similar, in that they both have a  desire to express themselves. In fact some of the best people working on the original Mac were poets and musicians on the side. In the seventies computers became a way for people to express their creativity. Great artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo were also great at science. Michelangelo knew a lot about how to quarry stone, not just how to be a sculptor. —  Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography by Walter Isaacson (Founders #214)

(7:07) All the podcasts about Henry Ford:

I Invented the Modern Age: The Rise of Henry Ford by Richard Snow (Founders #9)

The Autobiography of Henry Ford by Henry Ford (Founders #26) 

Today and Tomorrow Henry Ford (Founders #80) 

My Forty Years With Ford by Charles Sorensen  (Founders #118)

The Story of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison's Ten Year Road Trip by Jeff Guinn (Founders #190) 

(9:16) Another parallel to Jobs: Land's control over his company was nearly absolute, and he exercised it to a degree that was compelling and sometimes exhausting.

(11:43) When you read a biography of Edwin land you see an incredibly smart, gifted, driven, focused person endure decade after decade of struggle. And more importantly —finally work his way through.

(13:32) Another parallel to Jobs: You may be noticing that none of this has anything to do with instant photography. Polarizers rather than pictures would define the first two decades of lands intellectual life and would establish his company. Instant photos were an idea that came later on, a secondary business around which his company was completely recreated.

(14:26) “Missionaires make better products.” —Jeff Bezos

(17:44) His letter to shareholders gradually became a particularly dramatic showcase for his language and his thinking. These letters-really more like personal mission statements-are thoughtful and compact, and just eccentric enough to be completely engaging. Instead of discussing earnings and growth they laid out Land's World inviting everyone to join.

(18:03) Land gave him a four-word job description: "Keeper of the language.”

(23:15) No argument in the world can ever compare with one dramatic demonstration. — My Life in Advertising by Claude Hopkins (Founders #170)

(27:00) The leap to Polaroid was like replacing a messenger on horseback with your first telephone.

(28:01) Hire a paid critic:

Norio Ohga, who had been a vocal arts student at the Tokyo University of Arts when he saw our first audio tape recorder back in 1950. I had had my eye on him for all those years because of his bold criticism of our first machine.

He was a great champion of the tape recorder, but he was severe with us because he didn't think our early machine was good enough. It had too much wow and flutter, he said. He was right, of course; our first machine was rather primitive. We invited him to be a paid critic even while he was still in school. His ideas were very challenging. He said then, "A ballet dancer needs a mirror to perfect her style, her technique.

Made in Japan: Akio Morita and Sony by Akio Morita.

(32:13) Another parallel to Jobs: Don't kid yourself. Polaroid is a one man company.

(33:32) He argued there was no reason that well-designed, wellmade computers couldn't command the same market share and margins as a luxury automobile.

A BMW might get you to where you are going in the same way as a Chevy that costs half the price, but there will always be those who will pay for the better ride in the sexier car. Rather than competing with commodity PC makers like Dell, Compaq and Gateway, why not make only first-class products with high margins so that Apple could continue to develop even better first-class products?

The company could make much bigger profits from selling a $3,000 machine rather than a $500 machine, even if they sold fewer of them.

Why not, then, just concentrate on making the best $3,000 machines around? — Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple's Greatest Products by Leander Kahney.

(37:51) How To Turn Down A Billion Dollars: The Snapchat Story by Billy Gallagher 

(45:00) All the podcasts about Enzo Ferrari

Go Like Hell: Ford, Ferrari, and Their Battle for Speed and Glory at Le Mans by A.J. Baime. (Founders #97) 

Enzo Ferrari: Power, Politics, and The Making of an Automotive Empire by Luca Dal Monte (Founders #98) 

Enzo Ferrari: The Man and The Machine by Brock Yates (Founders #220) 

(45:08) Soul in the game. Listen to how Edwin Land describes his product:

We would not have known and have only just learned that a new kind of relationship between people in groups is brought into being by SX-70 when the members of a group are photographing and being photographed and sharing the photographs: it turns out that buried within us—

there is latent interest in each other; there is tenderness, curiosity, excitement, affection, companionability and humor; it turns out, in this cold world where man grows distant from man,

and even lovers can reach each other only briefly, that we have a yen for and a primordial competence for a quiet good-humored delight in each other:

we have a prehistoric tribal competence for a non-physical, non-emotional, non-sexual satisfaction in being partners in the lonely exploration of a onceempty planet.

(50:31) “Over the very long term, history shows that the chances of any business surviving in a manner agreeable to a company’s owners are slim at best.” —Charlie Munger


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