When I was reading the biography of Steve Jobs the name Edwin Land kept coming up. Edwin Land was the founder of Polaroid and an inspiration to a young Steve Jobs. I decided to read Instant: The Story of Polaroid
by Christopher Bonanos to find out more about Dr. Land.
I’m sending you this email to share some of the things I learned from the life and career of Edwin Land.
He believed intense focus came before achievement:
“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.”
Edwin Land would sometimes hide out in a random office to think without distraction. He believed people would be able to tap into their potential if they practiced concentrating:
“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.”
Edwin Land’s dedication to his company was impressive. He involved himself in every detail:
Land was at the top of every invisible organizational chart. An anonymous former colleague once described his involvement to Business Week thus: “Don’t kid yourself, Polaroid is a one-man company.” Land circulated among the offices, roving, probing, asking questions, now caught up in one project, now sucked into another, pausing only to catnap in a Barcalounger he kept in his cluttered office.
He also believed building a quality product was the only priority:
It reflects Land’s view that 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 is no good,” he once put it.
Another time, when a shareholder questioned how much he was spending on product development, he was even more dismissive: “The bottom line,” he said, “is in heaven.”
Romantic utopianism lay at the very core of what was soon to be a billion-dollar business.
And finally he believed that you shouldn’t do anything someone else can do. This belief was reflected in his famous battle against Kodak for violating Polaroid’s patents.
“Kodak terribly miscalculated his personality,” Schwartz says. “One of the reasons he put his heart and soul into [the lawsuit] was that he was outraged.” Land said as much, a few days after the suit was filed, at a shareholders’ meeting: “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.” Or, as Sheldon Buckler recalls, “In his view, it was ours, and now they wanted to take it away from us.”
The result was the largest patent settlement in history. Polaroid was awarded $900,000,000 in damages. In his view he did something no one else could and his patents protected that.
If you want to learn more from Edwin Land I created a podcast about his life based on this book. You can listen to it here
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