Brain Pickings

Polaroid’s Edwin Land on the 5,000 Steps to Success


In the fall of 1943, a little girl asked her father why she couldn’t see a photograph immediately after it was taken — a blasphemous proposition in the era’s photographic paradigm. Fortunately, her father happened to be Edwin Land, the iconic inventor and founder of Polaroid Corporation. So rather than dismissing the question as an impossibility, he took it as a challenge, then made history — in February of 1947, the world’s first Polaroid camera hit stores and unleashed one of the most creative movements in the history of the static image.

Upon visiting the MIT Museum this past weekend, which recently acquired the world’s largest collection of Polaroid images and ephemera, we were struck with this quote from Land, displayed alongside some of his sketches:

MIT Museum, Boston

To please the copy-pasters and the SEO algorithms, it reads:

If you dream of something worth doing and then simply go to work on it and don’t think anything of personalities, or emotional conflicts, or of money, or of family distractions; if you just think of, detail by detail, what you have to do next, it is a wonderful dream even if the end is a long way off, for there are about five thousand steps to be taken before we realize it; and start making the first ten, and stay making twenty after, it is amazing how quickly you get through those five thousand steps.” ~ Edwin Land to Polaroid employees, December 23, 1942

Nowhere are Land’s rags-to-riches story and his remarkable entrepreneurial spirit captured better than in Insisting On the Impossible: The Life of Edwin Land, a book by former New York Times columnist Victor McElheny which, although more than a decade old, remains a timeless Polaroid of the thrilling and turbulent world of innovation and entrepreneurship.

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