Polaroid and Apple: Innovation Through Mental Invention

Ran across this fascinating article, Polaroid and Apple: Innovation Through Mental Invention from Fast Company – which excerpted a few section from the book, Ten Steps Ahead: What Separates Successful Business Visionaries from the Rest of Us.

Steve Jobs admits to few idols. But one is Edwin Land, the college dropout who invented the polarizing filters used in everything from car headlights to sunglasses. Land, of course, also invented the Polaroid Land Camera. It happened like this: One time when Land and his three-year-old daughter were in New Mexico, she asked why she couldn’t immediately see a photograph that he had snapped. He took a short walk through the desert, pondering that question. By the time he had returned (and it was no more than an hour, he recalled), he had visualized the elements of the instant camera. “You always start with a fantasy,” he said. “Part of the fantasy technique is to visualize something as perfect. Then with experiments you work back from the fantasy to reality, hacking away at the components.”

Now, some 40 years later, Land had agreed to meet with Jobs at Land’s laboratory in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Jobs was on one side of the conference table, Land on the other. They were of different generations, but cut from similar cloth: Jobs, the dropout from Reed College; Land, the dropout from Harvard. Jobs, working nights inventing video games at Atari; Land, lifting a window and sneaking into a lab at Columbia University at night to use the school’s equipment. Jobs, neglecting his clothes and his health to build his PCs. Land, who in his prime worked 20 hours a day, forgetting to eat, and wearing the same clothes for days on end.

Land once told a reporter, “If anything is worth doing, it’s worth doing to excess … 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.” Similarly, Jobs had once remarked, “We have a short period of time on this earth … My feeling is that I’ve got to accomplish a lot of things while I’m young.”

Looks like a good read.