Learn From the President! Vol. 11 – Listening to Conversations and Solving Problems

(Itoi) Were the special one-on-one meetings with the president at HAL Laboratory basically just regular one-on-one meetings?

(Iwata) The first ones were. When I established them as occurring once every six months, the president at the time, named Tanimura, was sitting in on them with me. I talk a lot during meetings. I ask questions from all sorts of angles. If I don’t reverse things and ask them a lot of questions, I can’t draw out what they’re actually thinking.

(Itoi) So you weren’t just obtaining information, you were also giving a lot of it too.

(Iwata) After all, there’s no more valuable of a chance to learn.

(Itoi) I see!

(Iwata) But the themes of the discussions were different for everyone. My approach and conversation topics were of course unique for each person, but my first question was always “Are you happy?”. But after the first set of meetings I thought “A company has a common goal, and everyone shares in that goal. A goal should be decided upon because it’s a place where people work together”. And so I said “Let’s make HAL Laboratory’s goal making us, the creators, and the customers, the players, happy through the creation of products”.

Because I made that declaration, asking “Are you happy?” had a certain context to it. And so when I asked that……well all sorts of things happened from there. There were people who said “I can’t help but be happy to come into work every day”, and people who said “I don’t get along well with this person” and “I feel restricted”. The meetings were very short for those who were happy.

(Itoi) I see. So it was necessary to solve those problems, but not right at that moment.

(Iwata) Then the really amazing people would bring in memos they’d written of about ten items……And no matter what I said once every six months they would listen to me and tell me things in return.

(Itoi) (Laughs) Were there any cases where people were unhappy in a variety of different ways?

(Iwata) There were. In those cases, they would let me know. It would turn into the sort of conversation where I couldn’t solve the problems no matter how hard I thought about them.

(Itoi) That’s where the computer programmer part of you comes in handy. You can group them into classes, right?

(Iwata) Programming experience is incredibly useful in the simplification of problems.

(Itoi) It seems to me that there are quite a few things here that no one could imitate. It doesn’t seem like it was really a matter of just listening to what they had to say, and meeting with them in the best way that you could…

(Iwata) Things in this world are normally very complex. When people build hypotheses and think about complex things, they can definitely simplify them. Analysis is breaking things down and examining them, and because you form the hypothesis that is “I can explain things by doing this” amidst that analysis, it’s something that everyone does, not just me. So I don’t think it’s a privilege reserved only for programmers.

It’s just that programmers do this every day, so they have a lot of practice at forming many theories and comparing them in their heads. It’s like the pride you feel from working out. There’s a lot of trial and error to it. I don’t know if all programmers are all like that, but I certainly am.

(Itoi) You probably met with many programmers, receptionists and such, and you must have handled the meetings in different ways. Did you tailor those “different ways” to each person?

(Iwata) Yes I did. If there was no understanding and empathy between that person and I, then there was no meaning in meeting with them.

(Itoi) There were probably people who were ready and waiting for their best opportunity to make President Iwata listen to their complaints.

(Iwata) Yeah. And I would listen to those complaints. But I would also say what I wanted to say as well.

(Itoi) I see!

(Iwata) After all, it’s difficult to just listen isn’t it?

(Itoi) (Laughs) Well things are equal that way, after all.

(Iwata) If I don’t at least listen to people with complaints when they’ve been building up, nothing I say will get through to them. I’d get interrupted no matter what I tried to say. If I tried to say “This is the way that is”, then they’d naturally think “Ahh, he doesn’t understand anything”.

I had asthma when I was very young, and after I changed schools I was picked on. So from that I’ve experienced very well the position of feeling weak. Because the company I happened to start at was small at the time, we were in a position of weakness compared to larger companies.

I feel extremely fortunate that I’ve experienced being in that position of weakness for myself. Nowadays I’m in a position very different from that. But I’m certainly never going to cast aside the experiences I had then, and I really don’t have any feelings of resentment from back then.

(Itoi) Right. Everyone who’s known you for a long time feels that way.

(Iwata) I think that the decision to accept what the other person is saying comes down to “Are they saying this because it’s to their advantage?” or “Do they think that this is a good thing from the bottom of their heart?” I feel that being able to get rid of the idea of selfishness is extremely important in management.

(Itoi) Ways of doing business strategically have honestly reached their limits long ago. By treating it as a fight like “How can I destroy my enemy?” or “How can I take this away?”, I really think that the days of those things working well are truly over. I feel that using meetings like this as a negotiation is a normal point of view to have these days.

The other party has their own interests, and you have your own interests……There will inevitably be conflicts when your interests collide. And as long as each side is thinking about how to find the optimum amount of conceding they need to do to the other party, these meetings can be very difficult things.

And even you wouldn’t be able to do all that while still smiling, Mr. Iwata. So the relationship of mutual trust with the other party would be gone. But I think it’s amazing that you had these meetings with no thought of individual interests.

(Iwata) That’s because I never express my own interests to co-workers. Of course it’s not as though I’ve never negotiated and I don’t feel that negotiation ability is unnecessary in business, but there’s no need for that between co-workers that want to achieve the same goals right?

(Itoi) That’s something that you’re theoretically and emotionally certain of, right?

(Iwata) Yes.

(Itoi) In other words, I think there are times when people don’t agree. This way of thinking is common in an employer-employee relationship, and there are times when someone thinks “In theory I should be doing this with my co-worker, but they really annoy me!”

(Iwata) (Laughs) There are, there are.

(Itoi) You probably think that no one should be getting annoyed during these meetings, but it’s a balancing act between what you have to say and what they may have already said.

(Iwata) You make them say what they want to say……But when they have it sinks in to a certain extent. That’s how people are.

(Itoi) (Laughs) Ha ha ha

(Iwata) In the end they say “I see” and leave.

(Itoi) No one is going to come to these meetings to say “I quit!”, so just by the fact that they’re sitting in front of you, they’re a co-worker.

(Iwata) That’s right. I don’t have these meetings with enemies, after all.

(Itoi) That’s a funny statement.