A Lesson From Satoru Iwata

I think the best way to sum up Satoru Iwata and the best lesson to take from Nintendo’s longtime CEO is to watch this video.

Just for context that is the CEO of a multibillion dollar multinational corporation filming himself staring at a bunch of bananas during an industry conference. Why? I think a better question is to ask why not.

Satoru Iwata was the President and CEO of Nintendo from 2002 until his passing on July 11, 2015 at the age of 55 due to complications from a tumor in his bile duct. His death prompted an outpouring of support, condolences and tributes; the comments on that YouTube video speak for themselves.

Whatever your level of involvement in video games, Iwata may very well have had an impact on your life, however peripherally. If you have ever played any first party Nintendo games going as far back as 1992 it’s almost certain that it Iwata was involved somehow. Iwata’s credits go back as far as the original Nintendo Entertainment System all the way up to the current generation of Nintendo hardware.

The truth is that there are easily a dozen lessons you can take from someone like Satoru Iwata, from his work ethic to his commitment to quality, but I want to keep this post focused.  This is one of the easiest and simplest lessons you can take from Iwata’s legacy and it may be the most valuable.

The great banana stare video wasn’t an isolated case for Mr. Iwata. During the course of his career Nintendo’s longtime leader delighted audiences worldwide with his antics, some of which include:


A Satoru Iwata muppet sketch.

-A commercial for Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS involving a CGI-driven brawl between Iwata and Nintendo of America CEO Reggie Fils-Aime.

Wearing Luigi hats while making company announcements.

-Being turned into an Adult Swim cartoon.


Not the activities you might typically associate with the CEO of a multibillion dollar company, are they?

Iwata’s responsibilities and the massive amount of pressure he was under – especially during some of Nintendo’s rough patches as a company – can’t be understated.  This is a man who made regularly decisions where billions of dollars in thousands of jobs on multiple continents were on the line. He was helming one of (I’d argue) one of the most iconic media and entertainment brands in history. Even in the face of that he was able to wear Luigi hats and film himself staring at a bunch of bananas.

The fact that Iwata was able to essentially loosen up and crack jokes is something I feel is tied to one of his key philosophies at Nintendo, wherein he famously said that “Above all, video games are meant to just be one thing: Fun for everyone.”

That’s really the lesson to take away from Iwata. Running a company can be intense, stressful, and agonizing, but sometimes the best approach you can have is to make fun out of it. Iwata may have had it easier than most given the industry he worked in for most of his life, but that didn’t undermine the pressure he was under. He was still able to have fun and didn’t divorce it from the seriousness of his business.

More importantly, Iwata’s fun was infectious. People have done parodies and remixes of his antics, and since his passing tributes have frequently brought them up, and it’s easy to see why. When you think of someone like Iwata you smile. His own willingness to have fun put smiles on the faces of other people.

So remember: As much stress as you may be under, try to have fun. If Satoru Iwata can do it, so can you.

Rest in peace, Mr. Iwata, and thank you for everything.