Steve Jobs was irreplaceable, but he does have his analogs. Driven, charismatic men who created their own companies based upon their ability to imagine a complete product that had never existed — “a perfect new product, whole, already manufactured sitting before him” — and spend tireless years to bring it to the world.
One of those analogues was Edwin Land, founder of Polaroid. And the number of parallels between his life and Steve Jobs’s life were incredible.
In a feature over at Bloomberg BusinessWeek promoting Chris Bonanos’s new book Instant: The Story of Polaroid, a lot of parallels between Edwin Land and Steve Jobs are drawn, many of which are absolutely fascinating.
• Jobs and Land were both obsessed with details. “When the SX-70 came along in 1972, Land obsessed over the details of it. He so wanted it to be a perfect little object that falls into the hand comfortably. He used to refer to it as “my beautiful camera.” Everything down to the selection of the leather on the outside mattered to him.”
• The both believed that designing simple products was a hell of a lot harder than making them complicated. “Land from the very beginning talked about a system of photography that inserted no impediments between the photographer and the final product, the picture. Point. Shoot. See.”
• Land was the model for much of Steve Jobs’s showmanship. “In 1973, when SX-70 was coming along, he ordered 10,000 red and yellow tulips so that they would fill the room. There were bowls of them on every surface so that people could take pictures of flowers. He would get up onstage, and he would bring you into his world with these demonstrations. And by the time he was done, you had object lust for this thing. And, needless to say, Steve Jobs was watching. It looked uncannily like an iPod or iPad product introduction.”
• They both had failed product launches due to being too far ahead of the technology curve. “SX-70, when it was introduced, was a giant hit, but they couldn’t keep up with demand. And they also had production problems. The film didn’t always work right. They had battery problems. They had camera problems. There was an estimate that 300,000 cameras of the first something like a million sold came back for repairs. He was a little ahead of the technology curve, and therefore the product was a little bit harder to make than they could handle, than anyone could handle at that time.”
• They both fought their own massive patent battles and went “thermonuclear” on companies that they thought had ripped them off. Polaroid’s “Samsung” was Kodak, and Polaroid won $925 million from them in 1990… the “biggest settlement ever paid out until last month. Apple vs. Samsung beat it.”
There’s a lot more, and it’s a fantastic tribute to not only Steve Jobs, but the father of Polaroid, a man you might never have known you should admire. I highly recommend reading it; I’m off to order Bonanos’ book.