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Steve Jobs’ Role Model? Edwin Land, the Founder of Polaroid

If you think about it, there are many parallels between Apple and Polaroid: both companies introduced innovative products that redefined markets in their time, both were founded by college dropouts, and both emphasized design and usability in their products. What you might not know is that it’s not a coincidence. Christopher Bonanos wrote a fascinating article for the New York Times on how Steve Jobs idolized Polaroid founder Edwin Land and modeled his career after Land’s:

The two men met at least twice. John Sculley, the Apple C.E.O. who eventually clashed with Jobs, was there for one meeting, when Jobs made a pilgrimage to Land’s labs in Cambridge, Mass., and wrote in his autobiography that both men described a singular experience: “Dr. Land was saying: ‘I could see what the Polaroid camera should be. It was just as real to me as if it was sitting in front of me, before I had ever built one.’ And Steve said: ‘Yeah, that’s exactly the way I saw the Macintosh.’ He said, If I asked someone who had only used a personal calculator what a Macintosh should be like, they couldn’t have told me. There was no way to do consumer research on it, so I had to go and create it and then show it to people and say, ‘Now what do you think?’”

The worldview he was describing perfectly echoed Land’s: “Market research is what you do when your product isn’t any good.”

Both men were also kicked out of the companies they built, but that’s where the stories differ. Jobs returned to Apple a decade later and his company went on to become the world’s largest tech firm, while Land died a decade later and his company has filed for bankruptcy twice since 2001.

The Man Who Inspired Jobs [New York Times]


 
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  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    Excellent post and its quite true: Jobs enjoyed almost anyone who “thought different,” especially those who struggled to be accepted by mainstream society.

  • Chris K

    Very interesting. Where they probably differed was that Land was a real genius in several fields of technology (chemistry, physics, optics) but maybe lacked a true marketers understanding of the consumer market – the launch of Polamatic instant cine film bears witness.
    Jobs was less of a technical genius but had a fantastic insight into what makes a product desirable for the consumer. Pick up any Apple product and you can “feel” the obsessive attention to detail that went into the presentation and finishing – as well as the cool technology and connectivity that is inside.

  • Anonymous

    A great article and a wonderful warning to Apple’s new CEO. Time to pick up a couple biographies…

  • http://www.troppotogo.it/gadgets.html Stephan

    Now that you point it, the similarity is striking! Mr Land was a visionary indeed.