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The Man Who Inspired Jobs (nytimes.com)
246 points by wallflower on Oct 8, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 17 comments

Great article. Cult of Mac had a story where Sculley remembered a meeting between Steve/Land:

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?”

Both of them had this ability to not invent products, but discover products. Both of them said these products have always existed — it’s just that no one has ever seen them before. We were the ones who discovered them. The Polaroid camera always existed and the Macintosh always existed — it’s a matter of discovery. Steve had huge admiration for Dr. Land. He was fascinated by that trip.


From Tom Hughes, who was design director for the Macintosh project, here's more about the meeting between Land and Jobs:

[A]ll serendipity for Sculley who was just along for the ride. He just happened to luck out. And, there was no pilgrimage… no planned meeting with Dr. Land. I was working for Steve as Design Director for the Macintosh project and we were in Boston and I asked Steve if he’d like to meet Dr. Land, whom I had worked with before Apple. I called Dr. Land and he agreed to meet Steve. We arrived to find a BBC documentary film crew there. Dr. Land excused them and we began a 3 hour visit which included a glimpse into color experiments that were in his lab, to his personal office and an amazing review of some of his personal collection of photographs. The memorable part of this was that Steve was meeting someone who legitimately could be, almost uniquely, a mentor for him. And, clearly, they shared an awareness of the importance of good design as it contributed not only to their products, but to their corporate culture as well.


This is a good overview of the Land story and some of the parallels with Jobs, but if you're interested and have a bit more time, I highly recommend this long-form piece at Technologizer:


The odds Land faced in conceiving, building, and shipping not only an instant camera but the chemical and manufacturing processes required for such a product are staggering – and not far off at all from the feat of the first Macintosh. It's a riveting story.

If you want a real treasure look at the Charles and Ray Eames film for the Polaroid SX 70: http://youtu.be/4EdwmaQltHc

That's a gorgeous bit of video there. Thanks for sharing.

"Since 1947, Edwin Land and Polaroid have pursued a central concept, one single thread: the removal of the barriers between a photographer and a subject."

The ubiquity of the cell phone camera has delivered on Land's goal in a way unguessed at when the SX-70 came out.

Oh but the SX70 is much more fun to use. Creating an object like that, with the picture slowly appearing is much more magical...

Funny thing is, the Polaroid existed to quickly give you the image. No sending the film off to a Kodak lab for processing.

It'll be interesting to look forward another 30 years and see "The man who inspired ###" talking about Steve Jobs. I wonder who that ### will be.

Many people, I hope.

Interesting subtext beneath the article - with Jobs gone once again Apple is going to slow down and eventually die. I'm sure I'm not the only one that read that in the article; there will definately be a lot of, "Can Apple continue to innovate now that Jobs is gone?" articles in the coming year.

Unless he passed on to someone his vision for what he sees as the future of the iPhone or communications in general, I think Apple will begin to flounder again and eventually fade off into history.

I think apple has the potential to be Disney, which reached its peak well after Walt's death. The key is to have everyone be in awe of the founder's legacy. Apple's failures in the 90's were because they went the opposite direction of asking "What would Steve do?" It seems likely that for the next 50 years, everyone at Apple will ask this question.

I think it means to be explicit about that. The thing is, though, the facts in the article suggest a different explanation. Likely the declining relevance of instant film cameras made Polaroid's own decline more or less inevitable. And it seems even more likely that if there was some change of direction that would have returned Polaroid to glory, then Land - the man who stubbornly pursued Polavision beyond the point of reason - didn't know it and wasn't the man to discover it.

And to be honest, I think that something similar is more likely what will happen to Apple. Technological changes are coming that will make the Jobs/Apple approach less lucrative than it has been, and I think they'll probably arrive before Apple really starts to drift from that approach and those standards. If and when that does happen, people will definitely talk about how Jobs maybe could have turned things round, but I wouldn't have bet on it. Like Land, I think Jobs had one big idea and one strategy when it came to computers and consumer electronics, and all his successes in those areas came largely from his skill at executing that one plan. And like Land, I don't think he could have simply pulled out a new approach - and really, a new set of values and talents - in response to a change in circumstances.

More in-depth story of Steve's interaction with Polaroid can be found on Jay Elliot's book "Steve Jobs Way": http://www.amazon.com/Steve-Jobs-Way-iLeadership-Generation/...

https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Neem_Karoli_B... influenced Steve Jobs life a great deal.

Niccolo Machiavelli?

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.’

This reminds me a bit of Nikola Tesla's autobiography. He had an unbelievable ability to build mental models of mechanical and electrical things, and he said that they always worked in real life exactly the way he had envisioned them. His mental models were so intense that he would sometimes forget that other people couldn't see them. It's a fascinating, brief read.

http://www.amazon.com/My-Inventions-Autobiography-Nikola-Tes... (no affiliate link, weirdly I always had trouble finding Nikola Tesla related books / documentaries (I believe documentaries are still only on youtube / amateur)).

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