Nearly a half century ago, my Polaroid Land camera fascinated me along with millions of others throughout the world. It was the state of the art of its time. This is a picture of the model, which I loved and used.
Polaroid Land Camera
It is hard for those who are in their 30s or younger to understand the excitement of seeing the picture that you just took come alive in 60-seconds. I can still recall the feeling and the sound of pulling out the developing picture from the side of the camera. Then you anxiously waited for a minute. Then finally, you separated the picture from the negative. It was an exciting moment.
Unfortunately, very few of us back then knew anything about the inventor of the camera. Even the name, Polaroid Land Camera, was merely a name to most of us. I did not even know that Land was the name of the inventor, and Polaroid was the name of the company that he co-founded. I cannot do anything about my oversight regarding Edwin Land. Nonetheless, I can suggest some of the things that made that genius tick.
Edwin H. Land was born in 1909 in Bridgeport, CT. His parents were Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. Land grew up and went off to Harvard in 1927 but dropped out after his first year. Interestingly, Steve Jobs went to Reed College and dropped out...after only a semester. More importantly, Land became a mentor of Steve Jobs who built Apple based upon Land's model at Polaroid.
Steve Jobs said of Edwin Land,
Edwin Land was a troublemaker. He dropped out of Harvard and founded Polaroid. Not only was he one of the great inventors of our time but, more important, he saw the intersection of art and science and business and built an organization to reflect that. Polaroid did that for some years, but eventually Dr. Land, one of those brilliant troublemakers, was asked to leave his own company - which is one of the dumbest things I've ever heard of. So Land, at 75, went off to spend the remainder of his life doing pure science, trying to crack the code of color vision. The man is a national treasure. I don't understand why people like that can't be held up as models: This is the most incredible thing to be - not an astronaut, not a football player - but this.
Jobs understand Land and saw the problem with Polaroid asking him to leave the company that he co-founded. Interestingly, what Jobs said about Land being fired by Polaroid paralleled Jobs. It was not long before Apple asked Jobs to leave that company, which he founded.
As I researched Edwin Land, I attempted to discover those personality traits that he had, which enabled him to think and be creative. After several weeks, I came up with 5-traits that helped to create this genius.
- Problems motivated Land. An example of how problems motivated Land occurred in 1943. His 3-year old daughter asked him a simple question that changed his life. She wanted to know why she could not see the picture that he just at that instant. By 1947, Land invented an instant camera. Today, we can see the picture as soon as we take it on digital cameras. However, back then, the Polaroid Land Camera amazed millions. When Polaroid invented the camera, they made 60-cameras and sent 57 of them to a department store in Boston. On the first day on the shelves, all the instant cameras were sold.
- Morphing of science with art. Steve Jobs understood that Edwin Land blended art with scientific inventions. Jobs said, "Not only was he one of the great inventors of our time but, more important, he saw the intersection of art and science and business and built an organization to reflect that." In addition, Land created very large cameras that could produce a 20 x 24 inch format and then shared that invention with noted photographers. He allowed the free use of his cameras if Polaroid received some of the new prints created by the artists with the use of his cameras. The result was that the Polaroid Collection had at least 16,000 photos with some estimates as high as 24,000.
The Lost Last 'Long View'
- Driven personally. Elkan Blout, who worked with Land, said, "He was a true visionary; he saw things differently from other people...He was a brilliant, driven man who did not spare himself and who enjoyed working with equally driven people." There are many stories about Land being so driven to figure out a problem that his assistants would bring him meals since he would forget to eat for many hours at a time. Land could not rest until he resolved a problem on which he was working. When dealing with polarizing film, Land showed up for work in the same set of clothes for over two weeks. Nonetheless, regarding his drive, he said, "My motto is very personal and may not fit anyone else or any other company. It is: Don't do anything that someone else can do. Don't undertake a project unless it is manifestly important and nearly impossible."
- Inclusiveness. Land was ahead of his time when it came to employing women and minorities. A half century ago, the idea that women and minorities were as capable of thinking was not universally accepted. Nevertheless, Land could see talent without reference to the person's sex or ethnicity. While his inclusiveness benefitted both women and minorities, Polaroid also benefited.
- Man in the arena. Theodore Roosevelt said regarding the man in the gladiatorial arena of life, "...if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat." Land parallels Roosevelt's statement with his own, "An essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail." Land faced many problems during his life including being fired from Polaroid, his company. Steve Jobs said of Land, "...at 75, (he) went off to spend the remainder of his life doing pure science, trying to crack the code of color vision. The man is a national treasure. I don't understand why people like that can't be held up as models: This is the most incredible thing to be-not an astronaut, not a football player- but this .".
This is a picture of the genius Edwin Land that I will never forget...I hope that you will not either.
Those five positive personality traits allowed Land to have as his goal in life "an experiment each day." That goal provided a long list of inventions for general public and the military. Land worked on polarizing light filter, Polaroid film, color animation for jukeboxes, stereoscopic glasses for 3-D movies, retinex theory, inexpensive filters capable of polarizing light, Polaroid film, military goggles, smart bombs, Vectograph photography, film and camera for SX-70, full-color stereoscopic (3-D) movies, and smart bombs. In his retirement years, Land founded the Rowland Institute for Science.
While this article is about Edwin Land and his achievements in life, it is critical that each of us learn from him by utilizing some of the traits that made him a genius. If we incorporate some of his insights in our lives, we will succeed. However, remember what Land said, "An essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail."
This is an interesting BBC video about Edwin Land .
Man in the Arena
Visit the Man in the Arena page to read more about this topic.