Learn From the President! Vol. 6 – Things Constantly Imposed On Yourself

(Itoi) So at HAL Laboratory you went from part-time, to Developer, to Head of Development?

(Iwata) Yeah. I was put in charge of development and before I knew it, my business card said “Manager” on it. That’s when I became Head of Development.

(Itoi) At first you were that youngster that people just called “Iwata”. How did you come to be the “Iwata” that Nintendo’s top brass knew?

(Iwata) For example, a long time ago there weren’t many people who could do touch typing. So when I was putting the finishing touches on my programming work at Nintendo, I was really pounding on the keys. They said “You type incredibly fast”, and it was almost like I was showing off or something. Various people came in and out of the room would say “You’re right, he is fast”. It was just that sort of time (Laughs)

(Itoi) It seemed like a magic trick, right? In other words you were a master of your art.

(Iwata) I had made a few pieces of software, but they were all games that we as a company had planned to make, but no one else could quite manage it. I became somewhat known for that, being particularly skilled technically.

(Itoi) And that’s when you really began walking the path of the engineer, right?

(Iwata) That’s right, yes.

(Itoi) You weren’t a supervisor or anything yet, but it was a time in which you couldn’t help but find the game interesting as a player.

(Iwata) That was definitely the case.

(Itoi) When I hadn’t yet met you Mr. Iwata, I got an impression from the rumors that I heard that you might be making a “computer that makes games”. When you rapidly evolve as an engineer, do you take things to that high level of a concept?

(Iwata) When you’re creating something, daily problems can be separated into “People are bound to have problems” and “They work hard every day, but is continuing to experience these problems the right thing? Machines could be doing these things”. So I thought from a very early time about creating automation for things that machines should do. I tend to get tired of performing simple operations immediately. I want to make them easy and spend my time on things that are interesting. That’s why I can’t help but not like the problems brought on from doing those same simple things over and over again, day after day……

(Itoi) You don’t even like making someone else do those things, do you Mr. Iwata?

(Iwata) I really don’t like making other people do things. When you think about how doing things this way will make things easier for everyone, and put that into practice, everyone will be resistant to having to learn something new at first, but at some point they’ll be really glad you did it. It’s the exact same thing as a friend praising your output, and I can’t help but find it interesting. So when you met me during “Mother 2” Mr. Itoi, having machines do things and automation were a big theme for me. It was right around the time when I was trying to greatly improve efficiency in game development.

(Itoi) I had it in the back of my mind that was the “methodical starting point” for your management Mr. Iwata. With your earlier story, it would be like if I saw my mother having a hard time with housework and I thought up the idea for the washing machine or rice cooker.

(Iwata) That’s a very good comparison. I found a ton of things in the work happening each day around me that, no matter how I thought about it, were definitely not things that a person should be doing. When I discovered those things and automated them in a way that was easy for that job to be done, it just became something where you’d just press this button and it will happen.

(Itoi) Could it be that this idea was already in your mind from back when HAL Laboratory’s development team was just you?

(Iwata) It was in the back of my mind, but the thing that clearly signaled to me “Let humans do things that only humans can do” was of course after I became president. When we had the financial crisis, I became president and said I would rebuild the company. They had appropriate confidence in me since I was the strongest member of the development department, so it’s not like no one would listen to what I said. But on the other hand, there was basically no confidence in the company itself. When you look at it from an employee’s point of view, it’s just a pile of insecurity. It’s completely normal to think “I did my job in the way the company wanted and this is what I get?” in this kind of a situation. So for a whole month I did nothing but talk to people. That was the start of my life in the world of meetings.

(Itoi) So the meetings that would appear in all of your future conversations began here?

(Iwata) I discovered a lot of things back then. Even though I planned to think about things from the opposing perspective, when I spoke to each person directly I thought that there were all sorts of things to be discovered. I thought should discover what I was good at and not good at, so that’s what I did. If I didn’t know that, I wouldn’t be able to decide on things as president.
As the person with the final word, I made rules for myself for making decisions and started using them. The basis for decisions in a program are rules, like being short, pretty, or fast.
But management in the real world is not that simple. Maximizing short term profit is not necessarily limited to being correct, so you start thinking “Well then, what should I do?” from the moment you fall into a crisis situation.

(Itoi) Not being able to run away was a prerequisite from the time you took on the job of being president, so had you decided to not run away?

(Iwata) From the time I decided to “not run away” I began gathering materials, but probably during one of those meetings I learned “I’ll make decisions based on gathering information, analyzing it, and assigning priority”. I began to think “I’ll just move forward and decide on things based on the priorities I assign here”. And when I did that, things around me began gradually going better. In realistically applying these ideas, I grew more confident.

(Itoi) You were 32 then, right? When you look back on it, that’s pretty amazing isn’t it……

(Iwata) I’m able to see so many more things now than I was then, so I understand much better how difficult those challenges were when I was 32.

(Itoi) It must have been difficult. Another “thing that you know now” is maybe “Friends that aren’t too close have a large presence”. When I was young I couldn’t really see those who weren’t too close or supporting me from behind the scenes.

(Iwata) Yes. Previously I had a motto that was “When I work with someone, I want them to make me say ‘I want to work with him again next time!'”. That was something that I constantly imposed on myself. Because I didn’t really want to say “I don’t want to work with him anymore”.