Nintendo Is On A Roll Because of Principled Leadership: Remembering Iwata

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I’m certain that 90% of you reading the title of this post are like, “wtf,” but you clicked the link and are now obliged to read all of it. That’s how blogs work.

In flying home from Convention I had some time between the two legs of my flight. I pulled my Blackberry out of my pocket and began to check up on the news for the day. I hadn’t read a thing as working a fraternity convention is the equivalent of running a Target by yourself. I had a lot to read.

My searches revolve around people and the companies of CEO’s I find bold and inspiring. Among those is Nintendo. I was shocked to read that Nintendo’s President, Satoru Iwata, had died in his fifties.

There are a few things one needs to know before understanding why fraternity men and women should pay attention Iwata.

His career with Nintendo was remarkable. He was the first President of the company outside of the founding family’s line, the most recent served the company as President since the 40’s. He is partly responsible for Pokemon, Kirby, Super Smash Brothers and Animal Crossing, four of Nintendo’s most lucrative franchises.

He is the man who oversaw Nintendo’s most successful handheld and one of the best selling game systems ever (the DS line) and Nintendo’s most successful home system ever (the Wii).

I follow Nintendo because they embody principles I feel have been lost on our “now or never” world. They are patient, they stick to their guns and try to explore new ways to bring people together in one room. In a world where processing power and online play are all the rage, Nintendo simply enjoys putting smiles on peoples’ faces.

Here are four things to learn from Iwata and Nintendo to improve the state of fraternity:


Do What is Right, Not What is Popular.

In 2004 Nintendo released the Nintendo DS. It marked the end of the Game Boy line, had two screens, one of which was touch sensitive before iPhone was a word, and wifi capabilities.

It was doomed to fail because Nintendo made games like Brain Age and Nintendogs that were meant to attract “casual gamers” and women. Think of games on your cell phones, the DS had better versions of those along with Nintendo’s traditional lineup. At the same time, Sony was releasing their Playstation Portable with more power and games that replicated those one would play on a TV at home. David vs. Goliath huh?

It was exactly what consumers didn’t know they wanted and sold more than 150,000,000 units. Nintendo followed it up in 2006 with the Wii, which had sub-par graphics but a motion-sensitive controller and even more games aimed at families and casual gamers. It too was doomed to fail, then handily outsold the competition by 20,000,000 or so units. . .

Everyone in Fraternity/Sorority Life is all about leadership and combating this or that, but that’s not what our consumers want. Nintendo, like Apple, focuses on what makes them great, quality uniqueness, and put it on the market. People love accessible quirkiness.

Fraternities need to find that mojo and care less about what the mainstream suggests we should care about.


Persistence Is Key; Avoid Insanity.

In the original Super Mario Bros., players finish level after level and get to castle after castle only to find that the princess is in some other world. To some, that may be frustrating; to me, that’s life.

Not everything goes the way we plan the first time. Each level of Super Mario introduces a new element or skill to master. Failure is merely a means of improving your skill and rounding out your character. Every Nintendo game follows this formula: Introduce a skill, let the player practice, then require them to master it.

We want an experience that enables men and women to be better people and citizens. Alcohol prohibition hasn’t worked, speakers who treat our students like children haven’t worked and headquarters teams not being concerned with their stakeholder’s wants and needs hasn’t worked.

We should be persistent in getting rid of alcohol abuse, in getting our students to man/woman up and in making our stakeholders love us again, but we can be persistent and try new things at the same time.


Know Your Audience Better Than They Know Themselves

Nintendo does not make wildly popular shooting games filled with blood and war simulations. People who buy Nintendo games enjoy quirk, they enjoy having fun with others in the room, they like to be surprised and they love nostalgia. Nintendo knows this, even if their fans are not completely aware of it.

Chapters need to know what their members want and the best way to do that is to recruit consistently. It does us no good to have some men fully concerned with receiving a leadership experience and others concerned with expanding their gut’s beer capacity. Fine tune your message and only do things that revolve around that message.

Campus professionals and headquarters too need to follow that advice. There’s a reason we don’t have consistency across our chapters; we are more concerned about average chapter sizes and ensuring that every man or woman who goes through recruitment gets picked than we are encouraging our organizations to be excellent and to pick the 50 best men, as opposed to any 50 men.


Keep Up With The Times

Nintendo has not been quite as successful as the Wii and DS days. The successors to both systems aren’t doing as well and that can in large part be related to Nintendo misunderstanding how to market in the 2010’s and how to make better use of their franchises.

They are making changes. Later this year they’ll create cell phone games that Nintendo claims will be less trashy than every other cell phone game. Universal will create a Nintendo theme park and the company has hit another money printer by releasing toys that can communicate with Nintendo’s game systems (Amiibo).

Most importantly (in my opinion), they’ve begun releasing regular videos called “Nintendo Directs” to connect with their fan base directly and reduce the media’s ability to control the message around Nintendo.

We need to get with the times. We need to shape our story. We can stick to tradition and principle and still control the conversation on the mediums that our students use with technology that is new, innovative and affordable.

Start blogging, start better utilizing videos and your pools of alumni. What’s the point of having 300,000 alumni if you don’t share any of their expertise with the world?

Nintendo is one of the most principled companies on Earth. Iwata was a champion of maintaining Nintendo as it has always been, a company focused on bringing smiles to people’s faces. He once began a speech by saying, “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.”

Our organizations are like little businesses. We are their leaders, but more times than not also our businesses’ customers. We should treat our customers with nostalgic love and follow our guiding principles to success.

Following principles doesn’t mean hopping on whatever social justice bandwagon is popular; it means sticking to our purpose, our history and our unique place in American culture.