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Even before his death in 2015 at the age of 55, gamers were mythologizing former Nintendo chief executive officer Satoru Iwata. He was the CEO that took a pay cut rather than lay off employees during the lean days of the Wii U. And while working as a programmer at Hal Laboratories, he coded a solution to fit Pokémon on a Game Boy cartridge.
These are stories that gamers tell each other, but they’re also the kinds of stories that are still coming out of Nintendo about the late gaming luminary thanks to the new English-language translation of Ask Iwata. That book is a collection of Iwata’s insights on leadership and design. It’s available starting today, April 13.
In one section of the book (via Kotaku while I wait for my copy), Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto and Earthbound creator Shigesato Itoi talk about the respect they had for Iwata. And it’s clear that this respect came from a place of love rather than fear. That counters a popular notion that modern leaders need to belittle and frighten their underlings to get the most out of them. Many Apple fans claim that is what made founder Steve Jobs great, and that leads to other CEOs replicating those kinds of outbursts.
But in the book, Miyamoto says that Iwata never demonstrated that rule-by-fear behavior.
“Wondering if Iwata ever got angry? Actually, no,” said Miyamoto. “At least, he never raised his voice or anything like that. Sometimes he was at a loss for words, though. He’d talk forever — really on a roll — then suddenly go quiet.”
During these silences, Miyamoto seemed to get the impression that Iwata was distracted. But after a while, the CEO would pick up the discussion again, and Miyamoto would realize that Iwata was thinking the entire time.
Miyamoto and Iwata’s lunch dates
You can tell that Miyamoto genuinely loved Iwata from the way the game designer talks about Nintendo’s former boss.
“When it all comes down to it, Iwata was my friend,” said Miyamoto. “He never bossed me around, got mad at me, or fought with me. At any other company, you might expect there to be some tension when a younger person with less experience passes you and becomes president, but in our case, there was nothing of the sort.”
Iwata and Miyamoto would eat lunch every Monday. And Miyamoto, who is now the company’s senior creative fellow, said this was Iwata at his best.
“[Our lunches] were a combination of all the things [Iwata] loved,” said Itoi. “A chance for him to say, ‘I think I’ve got it’ [when working] through an idea that would make his close acquaintances and customers smile.”
This is something that Miyamoto clearly misses.
“What makes me sad is that if I have a crazy idea over the weekend, there isn’t anybody I can tell about it on Monday morning,” Miyamoto said. “When I’m eating lunch, he isn’t there to say, ‘I think I’ve figured out your problem, which leaves me feeling stuck sometimes. I really miss him.”
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