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By Leo Boudreau

Leo Boudreau

Apple and Polaroid

I have recently read the book, “Instant: the Story of Polaroid” by Christopher Bonanos.  I was struck by some of the parallels between Polaroid and Apple.  Both companies were driven by the vision and creativity of a charismatic leader – Edwin Land and Steve Jobs.  Both companies were able to re-define the markets in which they competed. They brought innovative products to the market that received an almost cult like following. It is difficult to remember so many years later, how amazing Polaroid cameras were considered at the time.  The concept of instant photography was a real innovation and it had a dramatic effect. Both companies attracted world class talent and gave them the freedom to be truly creative.

Land constantly strove for products of superior technology and design.  Jobs had a very similar mantra for the products that have been released by Apple.  A key part of their success was the acceptance of their technology by the artists in their fields.  Polaroid cameras were used by artists like Ansel Adams and Andy Warhol.  Jobs convinced most of the music industry to accept the concept that became iTunes.

Both companies used celebrities extensively in their advertising to further their status as cultural icons.

The most interesting link between the two companies is one that we can only speculate upon now.  When Land was forced out of Polaroid, the company entered a period where they lost their way.  The new cameras were not based upon breakthrough ideas and they had a very limited impact on the market.  Polaroid became enamored with their in-house technology and chose not to explore the emerging field of digital photography.  It is difficult to imagine Edwin Land ignoring such an exciting new technology and embracing the challenge.  Probably one of the great business questions of our time is what happens to Apple, moving forward without Jobs.  To the extent that you can use stock price as a barometer, confidence in their ability to continue on as a developer of breakthrough products is very low.  It is difficult to imagine Apple suffering as dramatic a fall as the one experienced by Polaroid, but it is certainly not beyond belief, as Samsung has so strongly demonstrated.

See more of Chipp Norcoss’s blog Why IPhone users should love Samsung

 

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2 Comments

  1. You have described one organizational culture dominated by a powerful charismatic individual, which is in competition with another culture that emphasizes innovative teamwork, one that is less dependent on the vision or genius of any one individual.

    It’s not clear whether or not Jobs built a structure of collaboration and teamwork where power was shared, or if he was narcissistically consumed by his own genius, individuality and power, leaving behind a lot of talented individuals stuck in a bureaucratic structure with powerful defenses.

    Biological and anthropological studies have shown that well-knit altruistic human cultures usually triumph over those dominated by highly individualistic cultures lacking in altruism. Stock prices are not a consistently reliable form of crowd sourcing – too much bandwagon psychology at work. What do we know about Apple’s culture, now that Jobs is no longer with us?

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