Learn From the President! Vol. 12 – The Plan of Trying Until You Get It

(Iwata) During my time at HAL Laboratory I felt from the bottom of my heart that if there was someone more qualified to be president than I was, I’d want to give up my position at any time. It was making things that I was good at, after all. I felt that I wouldn’t at all be unhappy if I could work with the part of myself that just wanted to make things.

(Itoi) That’s because you remained programming, even during your term as president, right? (Laughs)

(Iwata) Yeah, well the busier I got the more I only had time to program on weekends, so I did it then. But it’s something I could do anytime if I wasn’t president. If I were to play devil’s advocate from the perspective of someone looking for drama, I’d think “He’s gunning for my position”, or “He’s demeaning me for his own benefit”, or “One day I’ll clear away all of this gloom”. But none of those things were my intention at all.

……Awhile ago I said”I wouldn’t just listen to their complaints, I’d say what I had to say as well. What do you think it was that I had to say?

(Itoi) I think you’d say something about “the path to thinking about happiness together”, much like an honor student would.

(Iwata) Of course it was related to that……I want everyone to work together after all. Back when I was deciding on all sorts of things related to the company, your average employee wouldn’t know why I made the decision that I did in most cases. They didn’t have enough information.

So looking at it from the perspective of other people working there, there’s the potential case of them saying “It’s really easy to understand why the president is saying this, and I agree with it”. But there are a lot of cases of “The president is saying that, but why?”. By listening to them during these meetings, I come to understand things like “I don’t communicate my reasons for these decisions” or “This thing that I said was misunderstood, and it’s caused dissatisfaction”.

Of course when I do this I’m not limited to only being able to talk about why I said this or why I decided that, but I can explain the process behind it. After all, I’m asking “What would you think if I gathered up all these materials?”.  When their answer is “I’d do that same thing, in your position”, then I’d feel relieved wouldn’t I? When we understand that we’re able to share the same values, that makes both of us happier,

(Itoi) So when a child says “I can’t eat this! It’s bad so I don’t want to!”, instead of overturning the table or being regretful, you’d say “I’ll explain why you have to eat it. I want you to understand”?

(Iwata) That’s exactly right.

(Itoi) Typically you’d have no choice but to take a macho approach to leadership and overturn the table, but……

(Iwata) That’s fine for being efficient as far as time goes, but there’s no empathy to be gained from it. And in asking what the reason was that the other party misunderstood or wasn’t able to empathize, I think there are a few different patterns. Those patterns are hostility, anger, unhappiness and crying.

These elements are typically entwined with one another, and it’s very refreshing when you eliminate the sources for each of these in turn. If you asked me what I want to share during these interviews, I’d say “I want the other party to feel refreshed”.

(Itoi) In other words, try until you get it?

(Iwata) Yes. I decided to “try until I get it”. But people try themselves as well, so sometimes they don’t end up feeling very refreshed. But I’ve said that I wasn’t able to pick up on subtle signs of unhappiness, even though I thought someone was feeling refreshed.

(Itoi) Right now you’re very good at communicating what you’re thinking, Mr. Iwata. Your conversation during meetings is good, but I bet that you were a little less good at that back when you first became president, weren’t you?

(Iwata) Yes.

(Itoi) I think I had a very difficult time back then when it came to my ability to express myself to or understand another party, but on the other hand couldn’t that difficulty have the effect of not allowing yourself to be taken in by someone?

(Iwata) There isn’t anyone who sometimes feels like being taken in by someone. But I think it’s useless to say that it’s possible to deny someone the feeling of being taken in, whether it’s one person or ten, by doing the same thing. So I was able to do it at that level.

(Itoi) Rather I feel that one’s feelings might show because abilities of expression are low. I think that there’s a certain amount of risk in getting good at it, or learning it.

If you were to interview those same employees at HAL Laboratory now, you’d be able to persuade them much more easily. It would be very intense to be told “See, Mr. Iwata is good at this”, wouldn’t it?  Actually this really is the case in the world of advertising. It’s intense to hear “I told you Mr. Itoi is good!”. But it’s also not like I started Hobonichi from the perspective of “I have to hurry up and stop getting better”.

(Iwata) I see. So you’re saying by “binding” yourself in many ways, it’s not a battle of skill……

(Itoi) If you can communicate “selflessness” fairly well, that’s still selfishness.

(Iwata) Yeah. “Selflessness” can only reveal itself in other ways.

(Itoi) It’s an issue of what would you say if there was a person you really loved to death amidst the constant inflation of you saying “I love you to death” dramatically all the time, probably.

(Iwata) It’s not a matter of the technique of expression, right?

(Itoi) You couldn’t learn voice techniques from an actor, it could only come about by standing there and thinking of your true feelings without all of the other stuff.

(Iwata) I think that by far the biggest reason everyone trusted me was because I continued to have those meetings. I could see it in their eyes if they were tired, and couldn’t even continue on with half-hearted resolution.

(Itoi) When you said “We’re starting meetings tomorrow” as you were going home, I was always smiling with everyone. I had conversations about how there were still such commendable people in the world, like “How did he come to be like that, I wonder?” and “How is he so charming?”. If you hadn’t said that, I feel that you and everyone else would have felt like they had to have those meetings.

(Iwata) (Laughs) I’m sorry about that.

(Itoi) I ran away from those meetings. I was scared to listen. But in really talking with you about them today, I feel like I understand.

Though I feel as though I couldn’t get away with doing the same thing as you. You really do think in your own way, and do things in a manner that suggests if it isn’t enough, you’ll do it again. By comparison, there’s almost no way someone wouldn’t have thought “He’s not an irresponsible guy” by coming into Hobonichi every day and seeing me……

(Iwata) Yeah, that description suits you perfectly.

(Itoi) It was probably very easy to think of me as an irresponsible person, I just kept doing the same things everyday no matter what anyone said. You’re not the sort of person someone would easily think that way about, but you earnestly felt the need to meet with your employees. If you had been, you wouldn’t have been able to handle that company at that time, with that much debt……