Learn From the President! Vol. 2 – Deciding Not to Blame Others

(This is a translation of part of a series of interviews between Satoru Iwata and Shigesato Itoi, which can be found here)

(Itoi) Mr. Iwata, you were not the founder of HAL Laboratory, but was the person who was asked you to “Please serve as president” amidst massive company debt……so you might say that you started out with a big disadvantage, right?

(Iwata) There wasn’t anyone else to do it. I’ve always been this way, but it isn’t a matter of what I like or don’t like, but rather when I think “This is the logical thing for me to do”, I’m prepared to do it.

(Itoi) You could say that same thing about the distant future, when you would become the president of Nintendo too.

(Iwata) I was nominated for that position, so I can’t talk about that in the same way.
If I wouldn’t have accepted that nomination, I don’t know if I’d be saying these same things right now.

(Itoi) If you hadn’t been the president of HAL Laboratory, I think you would have lived a life more according to your interests.

(Iwata) Sure. If I had experienced completely different encounters in a different environment, I think I’d be doing something completely different. Just like you said, I think I’d be living more according to my interests.

(Itoi) You’re saying “If I had the time, I’d want to do what I love forever”?

(Iwata) That’s just the type of person I am. By nature, if left to my own devices, I’ll do something that seems interesting and sometimes show it to people around me. And if I make them happy, then that makes me happy.

(Itoi) Programming is interesting because it requires looking at both the big picture and the details, but are you saying that becoming president forced you to do the same thing in a more real environment, like society?

(Iwata) Management was definitely not a thing that I hadn’t done before. In the development division there are tens of people, and they each have their own personalities and feelings. It’s about taking these and little by little steering them in a different direction. You have to arrange it so that they all converge on a single objective. In those sorts of times you’ll say “Let’s do it this way”. And there will be people who will understand right away, people who resist and people who misunderstand……So there are all types. When faced with this sort of situation,
“Even though you’re working toward something, why are there people who both understand and don’t understand? How can you get everyone to work toward the same goal?” are things that are hard not to think about this when creating something.

(Itoi) I see.

(Iwata) When I said goodbye to the old days where I used to make things all by myself, it turned into working in teams of three, then teams of five, and then teams of ten. And then I experienced the process of working in teams of twenty and fifty. I learned a lot from talks on that sort of a system after the fact, but at the time it was just things I’d learned through trial and error. And through that trial and error is where I got the relative confidence to decide “When communication breaks down, I absolutely will not blame others”. From that point on, that’s what I decided.

(Itoi) Ahh……

(Iwata) I’ve thought for a while now that “The reason this person doesn’t agree with or respond to my message is that I’m not communicating it in the best way that I can”. If things aren’t going well, you have to change yourself. If I search for a way to do it that suits this person, there absolutely must be a way to get them to agree and respond. So even now if things don’t go well, I look for the cause on my side. It’s easy to just think that they’re stupid or wrong.

(Itoi) Yeah, you really don’t ever say anything to blame anyone, do you Mr. Iwata?

(Iwata) I decided that not saying those things was something I’d impose on myself. I don’t remember when, but it was a decision that I made in my own way. But even so, you couldn’t say “We’re all so great at communicating and understand each other perfectly” about the developers at HAL Laboratory, though it may have been somewhat true. I think it’s probably because deciding to “not blame others” is not a common thing in development.

(Itoi) I think developers who want to program have points where they’re attracted to the omnipotent feeling of “being able to take over the world by themselves”. Now that I think about it, you were like that too Mr. Iwata.

(Iwata) I was at first, yes. After all, I could make everything I needed by myself.

(Itoi) Because there are others within the same computer game software company that feel the same interest from “I can create a world without anyone’s help”, in their hearts everyone has decided that “I’m the king”……it’s only natural that conflicts would arise from that.

(Iwata) It’s the same for engineers, and the same for artists though. It’s because if you don’t have the confidence and conceit to think “I’m the best”, you just don’t feel the same energy.
Programmers do this because they each think their way is the best, and if they don’t think that they simply change their program. When those similar types of people develop together, they have conversations about their programs like “This way of doing things doesn’t fit here, so change it”. If three people are painting a picture, their styles aren’t the same, so if you want them all to go into the same piece you have to decide on one. When you do that, conflicts will always arise. After all, creations are expressions of the ego. And you can’t make people’s thoughts align when expressing their egos without doing anything. Everyone is working with good intentions and passion, so they think “I’m right”. How do you manage everyone going in a different direction and thinking “I’m right”……Now that I think about it, working in development was very good training for management.

(Itoi) That sounds like incredibly good on-the-job training.