Learn From the President! Vol. 8 – Putting Oneself In a Busy Position

(Itoi) Were there advantages and disadvantages to HAL Laboratory being in Yamanishi?

(Iwata) Now that I think about it, if we hadn’t gone to Yamanishi then the development team might have been poached early on. In other words, the best people would have gone to other companies, one by one. I got recruiting calls before I became president. And from then on I was able to clearly identify when a person had contacts on the outside. When there’s a relationship of mutual trust with a company, people will stay but when they think “I won’t grow if I stay here” or “I’m not happy here”, anyone would leave, wouldn’t they? Or if you’re in a situation where you tell them “We’re not paying out wages starting tomorrow”, everyone will look for another job. So I think that poaching didn’t happen because we went to Yamanishi.

(Itoi) If there were no other similar companies in Yamanishi, then you’d have no one to do the poaching. So even after HAL Laboratory moved there, they weren’t in the city.

(Iwata) Well, it was just outside the city. Though we were working in that kind of an environment, it was very good for concentration.

(Itoi) It was a good thing that the Internet wasn’t around then, wasn’t it? You didn’t hear about weird rumors or anything. On the other hand, Nintendo was in Kyoto and HAL was in Yamanishi. So I’m sure that gave rise to the lucky tale of two companies working together outside of Tokyo.

(Iwata) If we had stayed in Tokyo the company would have gotten stilted, and probably wouldn’t have continued on regardless of flag waving. I don’t know that for sure though.

(Itoi) There may have been a kind person to teach a young 32 year old president named Iwata what he should be doing, if you had been in Tokyo. But as far as making a round trip between Yamanishi and Kyoto……I wouldn’t call that a normal desire, probably.

(Iwata) For some reason all I remember is being focused on creation.

(Itoi) It’s like always being at training camp……I think that people reading this conversation in text form will be trying to imagine the location of HAL Laboratory in their minds, and I’m going to say that “It’s more amazing than you’re imaging it to be!”. First you go up that hill, right?

(Iwata) And from there you have a clear view of Koufubonchi. And you can see Mt. Fuji on the opposite side of Koufubonchi. It’s an amazing view.

(Itoi) (Laughs) That’s right! There’s a sign in “Mother 2” that says “Software House Where You Can See Mt. Fuji” on it, but it really has the feel of being a sight-seeing area.

(Iwata) Even from the sightseeing platform there isn’t this much great scenery (Laughs)

(Itoi) When I met the team at HAL Laboratory and started working with them in their training camp-like fashion, we’d always go on a trip somewhere to a hot spring.

(Iwata) Yes, Isawa Hot Spring.

(Itoi) “Apart from the hot spring and the night view here, where else do you guys go!? Isn’t there anything else?” I asked. “There’s nothing else” they said. It wasn’t Madagascar or anything like that, but because you had no competition out there, you had a place where you could experiment. You were an ace developer at the time and also the president, so you were really able to have it all……

(Iwata) Because we weren’t making many different things at any given time as a company that specialized in development, the amount that overlapped as far as what I should be doing between being an ace developer and the president was very big. Programming with everything I’ve got, deciding on various company things, listening to both sides if conflicts break out and explaining things so that both sides agree, meeting with everyone once every six months and listening to what makes them happy and unhappy and listening to what they want to be and advising them on that……I would repeat these actions over and over. I decided to put myself in the busiest position of all, at that time.

(Itoi) It’s as though you actually said that in bold-face type just now.

(Iwata) We had a few different teams at the company and peak busy-ness would move around between them, but I would go and help the team that was the most busy. To do this, I would first identify the tasks, analyze, and then figure out how to achieve them. But as a developer I think I had the most experience there. I would go for the most difficult tasks, but we were very team-oriented when it came to company productivity……So because others in the company agreed that “Iwata should make the decisions”, I was the best person to solve the problems that were right in front of us. Even though I’d be told “That person’s decision is okay” or “That person’s going to decide on it, well okay”, it wasn’t always that easy.

(Itoi) Like how the boss monkey becomes the boss monkey through actions, right?

(Iwata) That’s right.

(Itoi) I see. You’d obviously become a development focused company, so therefore that was your objective.

(Iwata) I’d decided early on that we were a development focused company.

(Itoi) That’s a very important thing……

(Iwata) After the bubble economy burst, words like “choice” and “focus” were heard much more often. But in 1991, I’d determined those things.

(Itoi) Indeed you had. You helped me out as well. You told me “There isn’t really anything to teach. I’ve learned two things from doing this for many years: Knowing what you’re good and not good at and running at full speed toward the things you are good at” about management.

(Iwata) Yeah, I had that conversation with you when you started Hobonichi, Mr. Itoi.

(Itoi) You told me something like “There are others, but those are the big ones”, but if you look back even at when you were making games, you were always doing that. I think “always” is the important point here.

(Iwata) Right. I wouldn’t have been satisfied if I hadn’t done that. I want to understand why things are the way they are as much as I possibly can, by seeing all sorts of different things. Why do these sorts of things happen? Why does this person say and do these sorts of things? Why is the world this way?…… I want to understand for myself “Because this is this way, this is the case” as much as I can.

(Itoi) You’re constantly forming hypotheses, aren’t you Mr. Iwata?

(Iwata) When you take a look around you, you’re always forming hypotheses about why things are the way they are. You form hypotheses and try to prove them……Because people do this naturally they’re also constantly making mistakes. But in continuing to form hypotheses and proving them, you’re eventually able to see things further and further away and from angles that you couldn’t before. That’s something that I learned from you, Mr. Itoi. I’ve asked you so many times “How did you know this would be popular six months ago?” And you always say “I can’t predict the future. I just notice things changing in the world before other people do”. Upon hearing that I thought about what I could do to be able to do that myself. That’s why I’ve come to repeatedly form hypotheses and try to prove them. I think I can notice changes that others haven’t yet now, and I couldn’t then.

(Itoi) You really can!