#134 A Triumph of Genius: Edwin Land, Polaroid, and the Kodak Patent War

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What I learned from reading A Triumph of Genius: Edwin Land, Polaroid, and the Kodak Patent War by Ronald K. Fierstein.

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Notes and quotes from #134:

  1. He died in 1991 with 535 patents to his credit, third in U.S. history. His honorary doctorate degrees, too numerous to list, come from the most distinguished academic institutions, including Harvard, Yale, and Columbia. He received virtually every distinction the scientific community has to offer, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the National Medal of Science, the National Inventors Hall of Fame, and membership in the prestigious Royal Society of London. Land was included on Life’s list of the 100 most important Americans of the twentieth century.
  2. In so many ways, on so many occasions, Land’s life was a manifestation of the indefatigable can-do attitude he embraced and encouraged others to follow.
  3. Land has the well-grounded suspicion that good, careful, systematic planning can kill a creative company.
  4. Pick problems that are important and nearly impossible to solve, pick problems that are the result of sensing deep and possibly unarticulated human needs, pick problems that will draw on the diversity of human knowledge for their solution, and where that knowledge is inadequate, fill the gaps with basic scientific exploration—involve all the members of the organization in the sense of adventure and accomplishment, so that a large part of life’s rewards would come from this involvement.
  5. Steve Jobs was one of Land’s most dedicated fans: “Not only was [Land] one of the great inventors of our time,” said Jobs in a 1985 interview, “but, more importantly, he saw the intersection of art and science and business and built an organization to reflect that. . . . 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.”
  6. Land’s relative anonymity can perhaps best be explained by his inscrutable personality, his simple shyness, and his blinders-on mentality when it came to his life’s work.
  7. He sees himself as determined, iron-willed and hard driving, a man who will not rest until he has conquered whatever problem is at hand.
  8. The formula for accomplishment he practiced throughout his life—creative wonderment and intellectual curiosity followed by inexhaustible effort—remains a model that should inform and inspire us all, no matter the particular field of our endeavor.
  9. He strongly believed that concentrated focus could also produce extraordinary results for others. Late in his career, Land recalled that his “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.”
  10. A way to describe Edwin Land: “a state of mind that includes curiosity, an idealism which is dissatisfied with the restrictions and imperfections of the present, a great inward urge for discovery and an ability to translate this dissatisfaction and inward urge into constructive achievement.”
  11. How to do something difficult: You always start with a fantasy. Part of the fantasy technique is to visualize something as perfect. Then with the experiments you work back from the fantasy to reality, hacking away at the components.
  12. Land had an extraordinary curiosity about everything and the discipline to satisfy it.
  13. On the development of the U-S Spy Plane: Eisenhower wanted to know what the Russians were up to. Land told Eisenhower, “Well, why don’t we take a look and find out.”
  14. One of Land’s tenets: “If you can state a problem, then you can solve it. From then on it’s just hard work.”
  15. Land on why he had to sue Kodak: This would be our obligation even if one-step photography were but one component of our business. Where it is our whole field and where we have dedicated our whole scientific and industrial career to bringing this previously non-existent field to full technological and commercial fruition, our manifest duty to our shareholders is vigorously to assert our patents.
  16. Kodak underestimated somebody you should never underestimate.
  17. A summary of Land’s philosophy on building a technology company: Creation of a new technology requires that a single individual have in mind the objective to be reached. This master plan must be supported by the efforts of many others but the single dominant individual must constantly assure himself that the individual efforts complement one another and create support for an integrated system.

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