Editor’s Note: This story contains one of our 10 Best Business Lessons of 2013. For the full list, click here.
Edwin Land, an inventor and the cofounder of Polaroid, once said, “Don’t undertake a project unless it is manifestly important and nearly impossible.”
It’s a particularly fitting mission statement for The Impossible Project, a company whose goal was to reinvent instant film based on materials that no longer existed for a product that was no longer on the market.
“When we started, it was literally impossible to make instant film for Polaroid cameras,” says Dave Bias, vice president of Impossible America. “All the infrastructure, factories, and distribution systems had been dismantled by Polaroid, and we had nothing but one factory where all the final assembly took place.”
Polaroid cameras–even (or especially) in the age of Instagram and snapshot-enabling smartphones–have a passionate cult following; the Impossible Project estimates there are around 300 million still in circulation. But in 2008, Polaroid announced it was terminating production of instant film, without which the cameras would become nothing more than bookshelf eye candy.
Enter analog-camera aficionado Florian Kaps and André Bosman, the Polaroid employee the company had charged with shutting down that last factory, in the Netherlands. The two cofounded the Impossible Project, whose goal was to save the factory and reinvent instant film for Polaroids.
“I don’t think you’ll find too many manufacturing companies that buy a factory and then figure out if they can make their product,” Bias says. “This is a real leap of faith that I think you would find is relatively rare in a lot of companies.” In this video, Bias describes the company’s unique (read: backward) approach to innovation in the face of nearly insurmountable challenges.
Bottom Line: Sometimes to achieve the impossible, you have to do things out of order.
(Video Producer: Shalini Sharma, Camera/ Editor: Tony Ditata)