Quotations from Ask Iwata, edited by Hobonichi

Words of wisdom from Satoru Iwata – Nintendo’s legendary CEO

On my business card, I am a
corporate president. In my mind,
I am a game developer.
But in my heart, I am a gamer.

As human beings, unless we have someone to compliment our work and enjoy what we’ve created, we’re not apt to go out on a limb.

In my time as president of HAL Laboratory, I spoke with each employee twice a year. This sometimes meant as many as eighty or ninety individuals. The time varied per person, with some meetings as short as twenty minutes and some people talking for almost three hours. I kept this up for six or seven years.

Ask me what sort of company I would want to work for, and I would say “A place where my boss understands me” or “A place where my boss cares about my quality of life.”
I also believe that everyone is different and always changing. Sure, lots of people never change. But I would never want to work under a leader who failed to understand that people can evolve.

since the whole point of a company was for people to work together toward a common goal by combining their strengths, I should clarify our goal.
To that end, I offered this: “The mission of HAL Laboratory is to bring happiness to our customers-who play the games and to our employees–who make them-through our products.”

management depends on an ability to minimize your personal agenda.

When I was little, I was sick a lot and had asthma, and after switched schools, I was bullied for a while.
Through these experiences, I saw the world through the eyes of the weak. My first job happened to be at a small company that was weaker, by comparison, than larger companies. But seeing the world through the eyes of the weak was an incredibly valuable experience for me. Even after becoming president of Nintendo, which was far from a weak position, I could never lose sight of my earlier experiences, nor do I look back on those hard times and feel any resentment whatsoever.

What are our strengths? What are our weaknesses?
Management means figuring this out and leading the company in a direction that helps everyone’s strengths flourish and keeps their weaknesses in check.

This is just a personal opinion, but isn’t the ultimate goal of all living things to propagate the species? If we want to propagate the species, each of us needs to make a point of why we do this one thing better than anybody else. In other words, an ability to assert “I am better at this skill than other people” is in the DNA all around us. Those without that kind of strength have gradually disappeared from the gene pool.

We made it absolutely clear that our (Nintendo) mission was to “shock people, in a good way.” Unless you can shock people, you’ll never gain new customers.

At the end of the day, what the company wants most from its new hires is someone who is happy to admit they don’t know everything. But at the same time, they don’t want you to ask your coworkers the same questions over and over.

Depending on how you approach it, work can feel dull. But, if you’re able to find the fun in discovering new things, almost everything you do can become interesting. This realization can be a major turning point in enjoying your job.

What really firmed up this perspective was something Shigesato Itoi taught me in my early thirties. Itoi is over ten years older than I me, but when I saw how much respect he showed toward people who could do things he didn’t understand, I thought, “This guy is cool. I want to be like that.”
Most importantly, though, I realized, “He’s not doing anything exceptional, just showing honest admiration for people who can do things he can’t do.”

People need to hear the same thing over and over, but before long, something that you’ve said
will stick. They’ll realize, “Oh, that’s what they mean.”
One person will get the gist, and then two more, and so on, until everybody realizes: “Nintendo set this as a goal. That’s why we’re here.” That way everyone can share the same vision for the foreseeable future. Of course, this may mean sounding like a broken record for a while.

What makes work so interesting is the chance to meet people driven by anger and people driven by happiness.

I’m always asking Itoi, “How did you know half a year out that this would be so popular?”
Without fail, Itoi answers the same way: “I don’t predict the future. I simply notice the world starting to change a little before everybody else.”

Watching the world, they’ll try to create and release things that they find personally interesting.
When other people like the things they’ve made, they get a boost of energy, and they do an even better job. The ability to establish such a cycle is what we might refer to, in these cases, as their talent.
Talent basically involves the ability to find rewards.
In my view, talent isn’t about achieving results so much as deriving pleasure from the results that you’ve achieved.

If you force yourself to study things that have no bearing on the world around you, the material will have no way of sinking in. So, rather than waste your time, it makes far more sense to prioritize the things that you truly enjoy, whatever speaks to you.

When communication isn’t going well, blaming others never helps. Instead, I tell myself, “They’re not getting my message or seeing eye to eye with me because I’m not expressing myself as well as I could.”

If Apple and Nintendo have something in common, it’s increasing appeal through simplification.

A good idea is something that solves multiple problems in a flash.” This is something that Shigeru Miyamoto taught me at Nintendo about making games. For him, the phrase functions as a kind of creed of game design, but I see the idea as extending beyond games and being universally applicable.

Miyamoto makes his games by taking leaps of faith, deciding that “if we do this, here’s what we can expect,” and in that sense he has a much higher batting average than most, but he is not omnipotent, and makes his fair share of mistakes.
But how does he fix them?
By snatching up some person in the company who has never touched the game. He pulls them from their desk,without explanation, hands them a controller, and says”All right, play.”…
Since the early days, Miyamoto has been spiriting away these unassuming employees and sitting them down with a controller. Telling them “Go on, play” and watching from behind without further explanation. I like to call this “what Miyamoto sees over your shoulder.”…
When you watch somebody playing a game that they know nothing about, you learn heaps of things about what parts are confusing, or which tricks they miss completely, or the spots where they miss steps that make things harder later. This gives you an idea of how a player reacts when they have no prior knowledge of the game.

When you’re making a game, at first there are so many things you want to do, but piling on all the features you want won’t make the game superior. When you figure out exactly “what is necessary for this game,” a world of possibilities will open up. So, rather than tossing in whatever you want, it’s good to remember the creative power of paring back.

A game doesn’t need to be like an encyclopedia. As long as you have a good idea and the right angle,
it can be closer to a magazine or comic. When putting a game together, it’s fundamentally about “if I do this, can’t do that” and “since these two things have that kind of a relationship, they make something interestingwhen combined.” Today’s games tend not to revolve around one interesting feature, but complicated combinations. This is what makes them unsatisfying. That’s what happens when the design is based on the idea of “more, more, more.”

In my view, the online games of the world are unfairly biased toward the strong. It takes the bad luck of a hundred or a thousand players to make a single player happy. Of course, I don’t mean to dismiss these platforms wholesale, but as long as they retain this element, things will never expand beyond a certain level. As fun as it might look from the outside, most people will drag their heels at the entrance. There has to be another way. I’ve spent so many years trying to figure out how to make these online games a place where parents can feel comfortable encouraging their kids to play, and how to create a world where harassment is not an issue.

A video game is interesting when you can have fun simply watching someone play.

Iwata had an outstanding ability to summarize and organize ideas. He was precise, and quick too. When naming things, instead of trying to come up with snappy titles, he focused on finding a good way to spell things out and get the point across.

… another thing Iwata really valued as a president was bringing people together for meetings. In no time, he managed to impress upon the company the importance of his role as a facilitator.
In his view, a facilitator was a person who ensured that meetings were productive, adding a touch of creativity where it was lacking, or focusing the conversation when there was an excess of creativity. Effectively, it meant being the producer of a meeting. He made an effort to impress upon the company the importance, in any kind of meeting, of having a facilitator who was there to help the meeting show results. This sometimes meant tapping a specific person and saying,”I need you to be the facilitator for this team.”

I’ve always enjoyed seeking out a reason why. As a kid, I read the encyclopedia from cover to cover. In the process, I’d discover connections between things I didn’t understand. I found that so rewarding. It’s a lot of fun when all these things you don’t know come together and start making sense. I still feel that today!

Since way back when, my motto has been “Whenever work with someone, I want them to say, ‘I’d love to work with you again next time.'” I’m deeply invested in making this come true. The last thing I’d want is for them to say they’d just as soon never see me again.

In reality, nothing can be created without some degree of hardship. But I think the fact that our staff doesn’t come across as overserious is part of what allows us to make products that people can enjoy with smiles on their faces.

No part of my experience has turned out to be a waste of time.

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