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#40 Insisting On The Impossible: The Life of Edwin Land and Instant: The Story of Polaroid
October 2nd, 2018 | E40

What I learned from reading Insisting On The Impossible: The Life of Edwin Land and Instant: The Story of Polaroid


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If you dream of something worth doing and then simply go to work on it, and don’t think anything of personalities, or emotional conflicts, or of money, or of family distractions; if you just think of, detail by detail, what you have to do next, it is a wonderful dream. [0:01] 

Edwin Land was a pioneer whose inventions were dismissed, and yet he created a great company by dint of pure stubbornness. [2:33] 

He [Steve Jobs] didn't yet have the skills to build a great company, but he admired those who had pulled it off and he would go to great lengths to meet them and learn from them. [3:03] 

Steve admired many things about Land: his obsessive commitment to creating products of style, practicality, and great consumer appeal. His reliance on gut instinct rather than consumer research and the restless obsession and invention he brought to the company he founded. [4:07] 

Recounting his life is a meditation on the nature of innovation. [5:15] 

We use bull’s eye empiricism. We try everything but we try the right things first. [6:06] 

Land clearly did not wish to waste his powers on me too innovations [6:34] 

Don’t do anything that someone else can do. Don’t undertake a project unless it is manifestly important and nearly impossible. [6:55] 

He held that the business of business was something different, making things that people didn’t know they wanted until they were available. [7:26] 

He thought and acted on a large stage. [8:34] 

Over and over he talked about his obsessions: autonomy, learning, education, vision, perception, the mind, and the mining of exhausted veins of knowledge for new gold. [9:14] 

Land on the problem with formal education: A student would get a message that a secret dream of greatness is a pipe dream. That it would be a long time before he makes a significant contribution, if ever. [13:18] 

From this day forward, until the day you are buried, do two things each day. First master a difficult old insight and second, add some new piece of knowledge to the world. [17:12] 

Edwin Land on perseverance: I was totally stubborn about being blocked. Nothing or nobody could stop me from carrying through the execution of the experiments. [18:04] 

Edwin Land on the difference between individuals and groups: Intelligent men in groups are —as a rule—stupid. [18:15] 

There's a rule they don't teach you at Harvard business school. It is, if anything is worth doing it's worth doing to excess. [20:02] 

Steve Jobs expressed his deep admiration for Edwin Land, calling him "a national treasure". [23:33] 

Steve Jobs: I always thought of myself as a humanities person as a kid, but I liked electronics. Then I read something that one of my heroes, Edwin Land of Polaroid, said about the importance of people who could stand at the intersection of humanities and sciences. And I decided that's what I wanted to do. [24:27] 

A shareholder asked Land about his goals when he had been a great student: I wanted to become the world’s greatest novelist and I wanted to become the world’s greatest scientist. [35:40] 

Inventors sometime experience a fevered paranoia just after they had a great idea. It seems so clear and burns so bright that they are sure someone else will come up with the same thing at any moment. [41:56] 

Land had suggested that Polaroid might be able to sell 50,000 cameras per year, far more than anyone else imagined possible. It turned out that even the visionary had low balled himself. By the time the product was retired in 1953, 900,000 units had been sold. [46:27] 

My point is that we created an environment where a man was expected to sit and think for two years. Not was allowed to, but was expected to. [49:25] 

My whole life has been spent trying to teach people that intense concentration for hour after hour can bring out in people resources they didn't know they had. [51:53]

If the product was right, not just economically, but also morally and emotionally, the selling would take care of itself. Marketing is what you do if your product's no good. [59:45] 

Walt Disney: We are innovating. I’ll let you know the cost when we are done. [1:00:28] 

Kodak got him all wrong. Kodak terribly miscalculated his personality. One of the reasons he put his heart and soul into the lawsuit was that he was outraged. Land said: We took nothing from anybody. We gave a great deal to the world. The only thing keeping us alive is our brilliance. The only thing that keeps our brilliance alive is our patents. [1:04:36]

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