Ask Iwata: Book Review and Top 5 Insights

Ask Iwata is the guided tour of what makes Nintendo the innovative beast it is today.  A company known for being out of step with the video game industry. Nintendo focus on new experiences, new ways to play and approaching new customers.  But what drives such innovation?  Is it Genius or Perseverance?  Ask Iwata is an exploration of the Inner-workings and thought processes within Nintendo. Learn from the famous developer/CEO Satoru Iwata with the Moneyman Top 5 Insights below.

3 Reasons Why You Should Read This Book

Here are three reasons why every video game lovers, aspiring video game creators and entrepreneur should read this book. 


This book is fantastic and high on motivation and inspiration for any creative.  it gives you a real sense of Iwata and his humility as a CEO within Nintendo. Not to mention his love for his people and his products.     


The added bonus of insight into the development of projects such as Kirby, Earthbound, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS, and quotes and insights from Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto and retired Nintendo president Hiroshi Yamauchi are amazing.   

Actionable Ideas

Iwata’s success as the Nintendo CEO and his approach to the role has lessons for anyone working in a tech or professional career.  There are more than a few nuggets of wisdom you can learn from and apply instantly to your own career.  Along with a lot of quotable sections, which I will highlight below. 

Overall Summary

Read on for a detailed Moneyman Top 5 Insights of what resonated with me while reading Ask Iwata.  If you don’t read on (for shame…) let me give you the quick summary.  If you consider yourself a “Nintendo Nerd”, you should definitely read the book to get the whole story.  I loved it and enjoyed the insights into Iwata and the company.  I found a lot of things I could apply to my own career or approach to creative projects.  And when you finish the book, you can go on and read the entire archive located here: 

Should You Buy and Read the Book?

I say Heck yeah!

Who is Satoru Iwata (Why Should You Care?)

Satoru Iwata was a video game programmer, designer, producer and CEO of Nintendo for 13 years.  He worked through the ranks of HAL laboratories, saved it from bankruptcy as an unqualified CEO and climbed the ranks to eventually become CEO of Nintendo.  His leadership was paramount to Nintendo’s most successful years. This was during the Nintendo Wii and DS was launch years. Iwata helped capture a larger audience with games like WiiFit and Brain Training, targeted newer demographics that typically didn’t play video games.     

Iwata was most famous for working on titles such as Kirby, Super Smash Brothers and Earthbound.  He made Nintendo more transparent, hosting Nintendo Direct videos and interviewed his fellow developers to showcase his talented colleagues and their hard work.  Sadly, Iwata died at the age of 55 in 2014.  He has since been honoured with numerous posthumous awards for his contribution to the videogame industry and this book is a beautiful tribute to this talented man.  Famously, this is how Iwata described himself: 

“On my business card, I am a corporate president. In my mind, I am a game developer. But in my heart, I am a gamer.”

Satoru Iwata

Ask Iwata: Top 5 Insights into Satoru Iwata

Satoru Iwata was a unique man.  Ask Iwata has numerous takeaways, here is what I loved…

Iwata Embraced Growth with Humility

When at HAL labarotories, Iwata was thrown into an unusual circumstance.  The company was bleeding money. Iwata, who was a talented programmer was made the CEO to get the company out of trouble.

He Believed in Himself

Iwata didn’t have that CEO experience but he believed in himself, and he never wanted to regret his effort.  He put everything he had into saving the company, planned it meticulously and succeeded.  This was an opportunity to learn and graciously took it. 

“I became president because we had no other option. Whether I was for it or against it didn’t matter. When I’m convinced that I’m the best person for the job, I step up to the plate.”

Satoru Iwata

He Showed Honest Admiration for People Who Could Do Things He Couldn’t

Iwata also knew that to be successful, he couldn’t do it alone.  He knew the hard work required to create these amazing games. He showed honest admiration for people who could do things he couldn’t.  Everything was a wonder to him, and he wasn’t afraid to express this, even when CEO.  If something amazed him, he would take great joy in it and share that feeling with his colleagues. 

He Focused on Making People Happy

Iwata valued his employees, and wanted to ensure that they were his first priority, and that he understood them.  As president of HAL laboratories, he spoke with every single employee (80-90 individuals) twice a year.   

Those interviews were a huge part of what made everybody put their trust in him.  It took a lot of effort and his employees could see that and appreciated it.  Iwata’s opening question for every interview was “Are you happy doing what you’re doing?”  Most of what Iwata spoke of involved happiness and he focused on making his employees, friends and customers happy.  It was very important to him and he said… 

“In my system of values, making the people around me happy and seeing them smile is absolutely paramount. It’s a part of me that will do anything to make this happen.”

Satoru Iwata

Ultimately, he made games to help people enjoy themselves.  It made him happy to see people enjoy his work and Iwata said that what interested him was “seeing the people around me looking pleased is what keeps me going”.  Most of what he had to say involved happiness.  

Classic Meme – Iwata & Miyamoto enjoying their Nintendo DS Fortune

“When on Top – Shake things Up”

During Iwata’s tenure as Nintendo president, he was not afraid to try interesting things.  Iwata didn’t come to this point on his own, he had an amazing teacher.  Hiroshi Yamauchi, he was the third president of Nintendo with a 53 year tenure at the top.  He was a genius himself, setting up Nintendo for success himself and launched systems like the NES and SNES. 

Don’t Waste Your Energy Fighting

Iwata received all kinds of lessons from Yamauchi, offering advice such as “Don’t do anything that’s been done before.”  As competitors focused on powerful graphics and gimmicks, Nintendo ignored them and went its own way.  Yamauchi was a smart man.  He would tell Iwata “If Nintendo tries to fight, it’s going to lose. Don’t waste your energy on fighting”.  They followed their own path and continued to innovate, from their first console to their most current console, the hybrid portable/home console the Switch.   

Make Fortune Come Your Way

The Nintendo DS was a huge hit around the world although people were confused when it was announced.  A portable console with two screens and a touch panel?  Iwata believed if Nintendo didn’t go in this direction, if they stayed the course they would have no future.  The average person may have thought it was a crazy idea, but Iwata knew they had to go there. 

Iwata described the popularity and success as a matter of luck, but he also believed that “Nintendo works incredibly hard to make good fortune” come their way.  And although you hear of people and companies that tried hard and luck was not on their side, even when your company is on top, you need to be ready to shake things up.  Even if you have the greatest market share.  This sounds crazy and risky, but that is how Nintendo reacted to market dominance. Iwata changed course drastically with the DS, where people were saying “we were on top, why do you have to do that, why not play it by ear?”   And that is why Iwata was fearless in his approach.   

“If you maintain the status quo, you wind up fighting for survival, and gradually your fan base disappears. That’s the one direction I’m always trying to avoid.”

Satoru Iwata

Don’t Do Anything That’s Been Done Before

Yamauchi’s lessons lived on inside of Iwata, where Yamauchi’s repeated refrain of “don’t do anything that’s been done before” became a guiding principle.  Iwata would hear himself repeating that message.  Yamauchi realized early on, that when creating new hardware for example, if you repackage the same old gaming experience it won’t actually feel new. And the gaming population won’t expand. If you make the same old thing, it won’t have character, and if it lacks character, all you do is enter the competition. Iwata made it absolutely clear that their mission was to “shock people in a good way”, unless you can shock people. You’ll never gain new customers. 

Saying “No” Stops the Next Idea

Iwata was famous for a quote of his that was “programmers should never say no” when making a game.

Saying “No” Puts the Brakes on Innovation

This phrase wasn’t used because programmers should do what they are told and against the odds, should be able to make anything work.  Rather, Iwata believed that if a programmer says, “that’s impossible”, it not only puts the brakes on a valuable idea but makes it harder for the next idea to come.  

If “no”, or “that’s impossible” is used, Iwata believed they would never break the mould and innovate.  Through the process of trial and error, all things that seem possible could wind up being a success.  Saying “no” limits the possibilities of the idea and anything that can come after that.   

He Created an Environment and Systems to Empower Staff to Create

Iwata was also known for salvaging Earthbound, a quirky fan-favourite role-playing game.  He was tasked with getting this game back on track. Rather than jump in and fix everything himself, he created tools to fix the game and created a positive working environment to empower staff to work on the game.  He helped the team believe that “we can do this if we try”.  Iwata created trust and a sense of relief within the team. He let them get to it and supported their work.

Determine Priorities and Minimise Regret

Iwata surounded himself with the best people, he harnessed their energy and believed in their potential. He saw the role of Nintendo as making sure that everybody’s latent potential is fostered as effectively as possible. 

Using Your Limited Resources of Time and Energy Effectively

Iwata knew the organisation and the people within it had finite energy, and that energy is a resource that should not be wasted on irrelevant tasks.  Iwata believed that if that energy is directed to the right place, you can exert incredible influence on the outside world. 

However, that pure, enthusiastic energy is difficult to force.  If you force yourself to study or do things that have no bearing on the world around you, the material or work will have no way of sinking in.  And this could be seen as wasted effort or energy.  Iwata believed that to use your limited energy effectively, don’t waste your time on such tasks.  It makes far more sense to prioritize the things that you truly enjoy, whatever speaks to you, and that energy will be never ending and the results will show in your work. 

“Constraint is the Mother of Creativity

It’s not unusual for any creative endeavor to have everything including the kitchen sink thrown at it.  When developing any video game, this can be seen as wasted effort.  Iwata described the task of creating a game…    

“…at first there are so many things you want to do, but piling on all teh features you want, won’t make the game superior. Stepping back to figure out exactly ‘what is necessary for the game, a world of possibilities will open up. So rather than throwing in every idea possible, it’s good to remember the creative power of paring back

Satoru Iwata

Iwata believed that “constraint is the mother of creativity”.  When you limit the scope and narrow the view, more creative solutions can open up.  More is not always better. Nintendo is famous for stepping away from more graphic power to create more unique, stylized and interesting games.  Uncovering new ways to play, new concepts, fresh ideas.  Iwata (along with Miyamoto) would start with fundamentals and build from there, starting small, staying small but building up. 

No Part of the Experience Was a Waste of Time

For Iwata, the effort expended on a project or person wasn’t always about getting a professional win.  Iwata didn’t see talent as just about achieving results, but about deriving pleasure from results he had achieved.  Iwata didn’t see any “failure” as a negative thing, but he did enjoy the opportunity to learn something new and best of all, he believed that “No part of my experience has turned out to be a waste of time.”   

A professional career can accumulate various unconnected experiences. For Iwata, he saw this as “raw material” to process and harness in future.  His positive demeanor never saw waste, just knowledge and potential for later.  

Iwata says “Mario… Imagine our next console…. with a nunchuk controller….”

Create Something Special, Bring Happiness to the World

Nintendo’s biggest successes under Iwata came when he helped change the mainstream perception of who played videogames.

Strived to Make Video Games for Everyone

Iwata knew the potential of videogames and the vast number of people who had no interest in playing them and never touched a game console.  He made non-gamers see the games consoles as “unobtrusive” but also beneficial to their lives.  For example, brain training for elderly gamers and Wii Fit for female gamers.  Iwata said that by “…these games becoming more readily accessible, the number of people who recognized the fun of Video games suddenly increased, what could be better?”

Light Users and Core Users – Are All Users 

Iwata wasn’t just about expanding demographics to make money. He wanted others to feel the joy of something he had worked on.  He said that customers take a passive stance on videogames, which means they weren’t actively looking out for new games to play.  Part of his job was to let people know his games existed.  He created new games and concepts to attract those new customers and then converting those “light users” to “core users”. 

Bring Happiness to Your Customers and Colleagues 

Iwata cared deeply for his customers and his colleagues.  He wanted to make everyone happy, so his games had to be self-explanatory and fun while his approach to his life and colleagues focused on happiness.  Ask Iwata has many memorable quotes about his approach, this one sums it up perfectly. 

“To this day feeling useful to others, and knowing somebody enjoys my work is what gets me through the day. I genuinely look forward to reading customers surveys and still get super excited when somebody praises a product or makes it clear how much they’re enjoying it.”

Satoru Iwata
In Earthbound – Call your Dad to save your game and he will give you advice…

Ask Iwata: Key Takeaways

Iwata was a genius at programming but also a genius at empowering others to think big and give life to new, bold ideas.  Creativity breeds creativity. Big ideas are needed and innovators like Iwata are inspirational to so many.  Reading about his achievements, his approach and his wise words gets you closer to that genius. 

My super fast, key Takeaways on Ask Iwata’s:

  • Be Creative
  • Do what others won’t
  • Make your own luck
  • Make amazing connections with your customers and colleagues
  • Enjoy every moment of your experience
  • Nothing is a waste of time

Iwata was not a typical CEO.  His sincere employee attention, open lines of communication and his system of values made Iwata a unique President and then CEO.  The “Ask Iwata” book is amazing, Let me know what you thought of the review and what you thought of the book if you have read it. And feel free to cruise the rest of my site if it’s your first time here.

M. Moneyman


Financial Failure to Financially Free

As a lifelong financial failure with a young family and deep in debt, I was made redundant 3 times in 2 years and in serious trouble. I had a “Financial Awakening”, I learned about personal finance and gained a financial education to accumulate 7 figures in assets.

My personal goal is to invest in myself, compound my knowledge and build wealth using three simple strategies. Save more money. Make more money. Learn about money. I’m living proof, that through the power of financial education, anyone can achieve financial independence. My sincere hope is that you will be able to learn from my journey and my blog.

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