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#133 Edwin Land (Polaroid and The Man Who Invented It)
June 25th, 2020 | E133

What I learned from reading Land’s Polaroid: A Company and The Man Who Invented It by Peter C. Wensberg.


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[1:14] He was revered to an extraordinary extent by most of the people who worked for him.  

[1:36] Land did not earn a college degree, yet he has received more medals and scientific honors than most living Americans.  

[3:36]  Land's life seemed to be primarily a life of the mind. His great dramas were largely self created, played on the stage of Polaroid, which he constructed for himself. 

[4:14] All of the people that you and I are studying on this podcast created their own world within the world.  

[5:55] The end this book made me think of this quote by Steve Jobs: Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Almost everything--all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure--these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart

[7:38] Peter [the author] worked with Edwin Land for 20 years. As a result this book —more than any other— has a lot of direct quotes from Land.  

[7:50] “Nature doesn’t care.” By that he meant nothing in nature would help or hinder their progress to a solution except their own ingenuity. Nature offered no bar to the elegant solution over the awkward compromise if they had the imagination to seek it and the wit to discover it. Nature had no concern for the affairs of men. 

[9:42] At 37 years old he had achieved everything to which he aspired except success.  

[10:55]  This product, this innovation, this creation— of one of the most important products ever made— came at a time when the company was almost out of business. 

[12:42] Land said running his company felt like he was a physics professor leading his students on a grand experiment.  

[12:53] I really do believe that Edwin Land is one of the most important entrepreneurs that ever existed. The way his mind works is extremely unique.  

[17:08] Land on his motivations in life: I find an urge to make a significant intellectual contribution that can be tangibly embodied in a product or process

[19:45] Edwin Land at 18: A secretive young man who was well-dressed but usually disheveled, often highly agitated, prone to long periods of intense activity, rarely volunteering any explanation of what he was trying to accomplish, eating haphazardly, his sleeves rolled up, his shock of dark hair falling in his face as he worked.  

[20:31] Edwin Land on how to work: 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; it is amazing how quickly you get through those 5,000 steps.  

[24:52] An example of Land’s obsessiveness: They start at 8:30 and they work until 4:30. Then everything shuts down and they all go home. They don't work on Saturdays or Sundays.They keep telling me I should work for them. How could I get anything done?  

[29:15]At this point we are 14 years into the story: Nothing told land that he had built a business that could survive, let alone grow.

[30:47] A Landian question took nothing for granted, accepted no common knowledge, tested the cliche, and treated conventional wisdom as an oxymoron.  

[35:56] Why is Polaroid a nutty place? To start with, it’s run by a man who has more brains than anyone has a right to. He doesn’t believe anything until he’s discovered it and proved it for himself. Because of that, he never looks at things the way you and I do. He has no small talk. He has no preconceived notions. He starts from the beginning with everything. That’s why we have a camera that takes pictures and develops them right away.  

[39:15] Land hated to stop working. Once begun on a course of action, he wanted to experiment until the hypothesis was proved. He worked liked a predator, stalking a solution, with perpetual patience and energy. His intuitive leaps had landed him on the neck of his prey too often for him not to believe that he could do it the next time and the time after that.  

[50:50] Land ran his company longer than any of America's great business leaders, longer than Thomas Edison, longer than Henry Ford, longer than George Eastman. Giving it up had been the hardest thing he had done in his life.  

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