Brain Pickings

Polaroid Inventor Edwin Land on the 5,000 Steps to Success

By:

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.

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner.





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount.





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

The First Forty Years of NPR: The Making of a Cultural Icon

By:

Since its inception in 1970, NPR has “always put the listener first” — a mission not always friction-free at times of political turmoil, government overregulation and divided public opinion. This year, the iconic public broadcaster celebrates its 40th anniversary with This Is NPR: The First Forty Years, a beautifully designed anthology of behind-the-scenes photos, essays and original reporting, and NPR: The First Forty Years, a companion 4-CD compilation featuring some of the most memorable moments from 40 years of news, culture, conversation and commentary. (A thematic continuation of the wonderful All Facts Considered compendium by NPR’s lovable librarian, which we featured earlier this week.)

We were ambitious from the beginning. We started literally almost on shoestrings, tin cans and strings. A handful of five reporters, almost no resources and this tiny number of stations. But we knew we were into something that was going to be very important.”

The book covers historical milestones of all kinds, from the fall of the Berlin Wall to 9/11 to Obama’s election, and the audio compilation features exclusive commentaries and reflections by some of NPR’s greatest icons, Susan Stamberg, Robert Siegel, Scott Simon, Daniel Schorr, Noah Adams, Cokie Roberts and David Sedaris.

Together, the anniversary duo is a priceless timecapsule of seminal journalism and cultural curation at its finest — we couldn’t recommend it more.

In 2010, we spent more than 4,500 hours bringing you Brain Pickings. If you found any joy and inspiration here this year, please consider supporting us with a modest donation — it lets us know we’re doing something right and helps pay the bills.





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.

Hans Rosling for BBC: 200 Countries Over 200 Years in 4 Minutes

By:

Statistical stuntsman Hans Rosling, mastermind of revolutionary visualization platform Gapminder, is a longtime Brain Pickings darling. From his blockbuster TED talks, better described as performances than mere talks, to his projection of the future of humanity in LEGO, Rosling is easily the most vocal and engaging advocate for data visualization as a sensemaking mechanism for culture and the world.

Now, The Hans strikes again with an absolutely brilliant 4-minute distillation of 200 countries over 200 years, part of BBC’s The Joy of Stats. (An excellent companion to The Beauty of Maps.) With his signature sports commentator style, Rosling narrates two centuries worth of income and life expectancy data in a way he never has before: Using augmented reality animation. To see the impact of historical and political milestones, from colonization to the Industrial Revolution to WWII, in such a visceral way contextualizes these events and their aftermath in a way no history book or verbal storytelling ever could — a living manifesto for the power and importance of data visualization as a storytelling device.

For more on the storytelling and sensemaking art and science of data visualization, the journalistic importance of which we’ve previously examined, we highly recommend Data Flow 2 and Beautiful Data: The Stories Behind Elegant Data Solutions, both of which reference Rosling’s work, among countless other masters of the discipline.

HT @TEDchris

In 2010, we spent more than 4,500 hours bringing you Brain Pickings. If you found any joy and inspiration here this year, please consider supporting us with a modest donation — it lets us know we’re doing something right and helps pay the bills.





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.

Yoxi: A Creative Game for Social Change

By:

How to solve the world’s problems by harnessing human nature.

We’ve already seen how games can increase our productivity and enlist crowd support for causes. Now, a new platform is setting out to apply the principles of gaming to innovation and social change. Yoxi (pronounced YO-see) is a creative competition and a social game, rallying teams of problem-solvers to compete against each other in solving major challenges of our time. The winner walks away with startup funds between $5,000 and $40,000, depending on community votes, and connection opportunities with thought leaders and influencers.

Part OpenIDEO, part Kickstarter, Yoxi enlists two fundamental parts of human nature — the competitive streak and the need for play — in tackling serious and complex issues, starting with reinventing fast food.

Yoxi is essentially a game of strategy. It blends traditional gaming elements like points and levels with traditional social elements like user votes in a model that’s part gaming, part crowdfunding, part collaborative problem-solving. Give it a shot.

Bonus points for an error page that made us smile.

HT @AmritRichmond

In 2010, we spent more than 4,500 hours bringing you Brain Pickings. If you found any joy and inspiration here this year, please consider supporting us with a modest donation — it lets us know we’re doing something right and helps pay the bills.





We’ve got a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays, offers the week’s main articles, and features short-form interestingness from our PICKED series. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.