New York magazine editor Christopher Bonanos has written a new book titled Instant: The Story of Polaroid, which provides a behind-the-scenes look at the rise and fall of Edwin Land’s revolutionary company. In the video above, Bonanos offers a brief history of Polaroid, including how Land’s ideas inspired entrepreneurs to follow:
[Edwin] Land did no market research. He once said that marketing is what you do if your product is no good. Instead, what he believed was this: you had to show people something they had no idea they wanted, but that was irresistible. To that end, what he would do was turn Polaroid’s annual meeting into sort of a show. He would get up on stage, he would show the new camera, he would demonstrate whatever the new product was, and by the end of the meeting you completely had to have one. You were drawn into Polaroidland.
Remind you of someone? If you’re thinking Steve Jobs, you’re right. The similarities were not a coincidence. As we shared last year, Steve Jobs considered Land his role model, and used many of his ideas in turning Apple into the juggernaut tech company it is today.
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]
Harry McCracken over at Technologizer wrote a fascinating piece about Polaroid founder Edwin Land and the history of the SX-70 camera.
“Don’t undertake a project,” an oft-quoted Land maxim goes, “unless it is manifestly important and nearly impossible.” The SX-70 was both.
Did you know that “SX-70″ was actually the codeword used by Land a quarter century before the SX-70 camera for his first instant film camera project? It was his 70th Special eXperiment (Land was a Harvard dropout and prolific inventor, inventing the first synthetic material capable of polarizing light when he was just 19-years-old!)
It’s a pretty lengthy piece, but a must-read for any Polaroid lover.
Polaroid’s SX-70: The Art and Science of the Nearly Impossible (via Daring Fireball)
Image credit: SX-70 Family by Brian Warren
The October 27, 1972 issue of LIFE read “A Genius and His Magic Camera: Dr. Edwin Land of Polaroid demonstrates his new invention”. The invention was the Polaroid SX-70 instant camera.
LIFE (via Photojojo)