Book Review: Ask Iwata: Words of Wisdom from Satoru Iwata, Nintendo’s Legendary CEO


Ask Iwata Viz Media© Nintendo Life

This book review was originally published on 17th April, and we’ve republished it on 11th July 2021, marking six years since Satoru Iwata passed away.

It’s been said often that Satoru Iwata wasn’t just a CEO of a hugely successful company, he was far more. That sentiment is frequently connected to his various iconic public appearances, but more depth could be found in translations of his excellent Iwata Asks interviews and, for Japanese readers, on the Hobo Nikkan Itoi Shinbun website. This book — Ask Iwata: Words of Wisdom from Satoru Iwata, Nintendo’s Legendary CEO — is largely a skilfully translated compilation of those sources, along with touching words from Iwata’s colleagues and friends, Shigeru Miyamoto and Shigesato Itoi.

Structurally, the majority of this book is the words of Iwata himself, or those transcribed from conversations with Itoi or Iwata Asks. It’s true that some readers may have already digested these details already, but the book does a good job of leading between themes and times in Iwata’s life.

His own words on his youth and love for programming shine through, and the tale of the remarkable origins of HAL Laboratories is an early stand-out. Given his impressive resumé, it’s easy to overlook the fact that Satoru Iwata was an extremely skilful programmer, and even in his days as an executive he’d be parachuted in to rescue projects. For fans of EarthBound, in particular, there are wonderful sections that recount the way Iwata blended his skill and personality to not only revive the project, but the team itself.

There are snippets in here about game and hardware design, naturally, and though they are interesting, they are ground that’s been covered before. The standout segments revolve around Iwata writing about more generalised topics. Though he is often talking about running a company or Nintendo’s philosophies, his words are really about people and how to lead fulfilling lives. That sounds lofty, but it’s also grounded in the telling; it’s no surprise that the book’s publisher has opted for ‘motivational’ and ‘management’ genres when listing the book.

Yet this isn’t a self-help book or a patronising motivational screed telling you to ‘just do it’. Iwata’s qualities as a person — recounted by those that knew him best — seemingly filtered through his entire work life. In fact, reading Iwata’s principles in this form explain some of Nintendo’s more confusing decisions in his era as President, and make them seem right, even if the market disagreed.


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