3 Lessons Learned From the Creator of the World’s Highest Grossing Media Franchise

What can we learn from a boy who grew up in rural Japan who took that hobby and turned it into the most lucrative franchise in the world?

This is the story of Satoshi Tajiri, the man who invented Pokemon. We can learn some very important lessons from his success.

Beginnings as a Bug Catcher

Satoshi Tajiri, Born in Tokyo Japan in 1965 lived in Machida, a city in the western portion of the Tokyo Metropolis. At the time Machida maintained a rural atmosphere but was rapidly urbanizing.

Tajiri spent his free time collecting bugs and was rather thoughtful about different ways to catch bugs. He would place rocks in strategic locations where beetles could come and sleep during the day. He quickly captured many different varieties of bugs and earned the nickname Dr. Bug.

Everything changed in 1978 when Tajiri went from collecting bugs to fighting alien invaders at the local arcade. This new hobby almost caused him to fail high school but eventually he graduated and pursued a technical degree in electronics and computer science.

This all came secondary to his budding business, Game Freak Magazine. Published from 1981 to 1986, Satoshi would include secrets and tips on how to beat video games. Though it was originally a solo endeavor, Ken Sigumori joined Tajiri as an illustrator for the magazine.

In 1989 Sigumori and Tajiri co-founded Game Freak as a game development company. They developed their first game, Quinty for Namco who published the game. Tajiri continued writing for other magazines to earn money and keep the lights on at Game Freak.

In 1991 a concept developed by Tajiri a year earlier suddenly looked like it might become a reality. The Gameboy was released by Nintendo and included cable linking, allowing players’s systems to communicate back and forth.

Tajiri wanted to create a new RPG where players collected and battled digital monsters. He saw the urbanization of his town and an entire generation of Japanese kids who wouldn’t get to experience the joy and wonder he had collecting bugs and showing them off to his friends.

He combined his experience in innovating as a bug catcher with his experience in video games to design a game that would somewhat mimic the experience he had as a kid.

When Tajiri pitched the idea to Nintendo, the executives were a bit confused at the concept and it looked like the dream of catching them all might be over before the first step.

Lesson 1: Synthesize your life experiences

Emilie Wapnick touts the merits of being a multipotentialite – a person with many interests and creative pursuits.

This a nod to the so-called “renaissance man” or polymath. It comes from a thought of one who embodied the title of renaissance man, Leon Battista Alberti who said, “A man can do all things if he will.”

In his book, “Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World David Epstein documents how the 10,000 hour rule of mastery came into popularity through stories like the Polgar sisters in chess and Tiger Woods in golf.

He then outlines countless examples of why this thinking is flawed and a diverse range of experiences is often more beneficial.

He references the likes of Roger Federer who didn’t start taking tennis seriously until he was in his late teenage years, preferring to try out a myriad of other sports instead.

It’s these life experiences that lead to creative solutions from people like John Davis.

John Davis studied chemistry in college and now works as a consultant for petrochemical and general manufacturing facilities. One summer Davis worked pouring concrete and was fascinated by the concrete vibrator. It was used to return prematurely setting concrete to a liquid form almost like a magic wand.

A few years later, as he browsed problems posed by companies on Innocentive — a crowdsourcing platform pairing companies with problems with creative solutions from solvers — this memory would resurface and win him $20,000.

The Prince William Sound Oil Spill Recovery Institute OSRI was trying to clean up the Exxon spill from 1989.

By 2007 there was still 120,000 liters trapped in the Alaskan coastline. Scott Pegau, the research program Manager said, “If it was easily solved by people within the industry, it would have been solved by people within the industry.” OSRI used Innocentive as a way to step outside the box.

John Davis was that out of the box thinker. One of the problems with the oil was hardening in the icy water. He reasoned that the concrete vibrator could return it to a more slushy form making it easier to get out of the water.

He used is background in chemistry coupled with his experience with a tool unique to the concrete industry to solve a multimillion dollar problem and net himself a nice paycheck as well.

We need to take advantage of our experiences so that we can create cross discipline insights and innovate in ways that can make life better for us and those with whom come into contact.

Cutting out the fluff to keep the dream alive.

Because of Tajiri’s work on other games for Nintendo such as the original Yoshi game and a Mario and Wario game that was only released in Japan, they gave his game idea a chance.

The game pitched in the first meeting was very different than the game that was finally produced.

Artists for the initial games, Ken Sugimori and Atsuko Nishida, created the artwork for over 200 pokemon. Over the next 6 years they would have to cut that number to 150 to fit within the constraints of the data available on the game cartridge.

Lesson 2: Working within constraints often yields better results

Time is the singular constraint that all of us share. Maximizing our time should be our shared goal as well.

Occum’s Razor states that the simplest solution is almost always best. Greg McKeown, in his book, “Essentialism” sets out to put this to the test.

McKeown outlines one of the key princples of essentialism as doing less but doing it better. Often, especially since the advent of the internet, it’s easy to become lost in shiny object syndrome. We are looking for the next best thing.

Instead of focusing on what we feel we should do, we should focus on what makes us happiest and contributes to our well being. This doesn’t need to be a selfish action as we are often happiest giving our time to others. All it means is to be intentional with our time and make sure we are protecting the most important asset we have, ourselves.

Until the 20th century, priority had not been pluralized. It meant, simply, “the fact or condition of being regarded or treated as more important.” It is, according to this definition, impossible to have a second priority as the word priority in and of itself is absolute in meaning.

Cutting out things that don’t get us to our ultimate state of happiness is the key to happiness. It’s the reason that minimalism is such a popular lifestyle. We don’t need more to make us happy, oftentimes we need less.

In high school I had the opportunity to travel to India. I have never experienced a more visceral example of this principle. We were in villages where the entire net worth of the residents was less than some people I know here in the US.

What was amazing is that, not only did they welcome us in and give us whatever they had, they also seemed to be so much happier than people I regularly interact with here in the US. We spent two weeks with them and I never saw anything that resembled depression or anxiety. I’m not saying that doesn’t exist over there but I do think that their focus on things that matter most, like relationships, and their inability to focus on consumerism benefited their overall mood and mindset greatly!

Asking for help made Pokemon millions of dollars

Tajiri was struggling during development for ways to encourage the collection aspect and create a community between players. He went to the creator of Mario and asked for his advice.

The answer was simple – make some of the Pokemon version exclusive. Release 2 versions of the game with a handful of Pokemon only available on one game and not the other.

Not only did this make the games immensely popular as children would need to trade with their friends to complete the Pokedex, but it also sparked a huge boon in revenue for the Pokemon Company. Ever since then, each generation of pokemon has had 2 versions each with exclusive pokemon.

Players all over the world will purchase both copies of the game in order to single handedly complete the pokedex. Being willing to ask for help almost doubled the success of the game.

Lesson 3: You don’t need to do it alone

Since the advent of humans on earth we have been social creatures. We have relied on one another for survival.

At some point in the development of society we started to care what others think of us. A recent study showed that by age 5 kids were hesitant to ask for help because they didn’t want to appear weak or lose standing in society.

A related study, however, showed that people are much more willing to help others than we give them credit for. We are so afraid of inconveniencing others where really, asking them for help, provides them with a positive experience in more situations than we realize.

After Ellie and I got back from our trip around the world we’ve had a lot of friends ask about how we made it work. As we’ve told people we’ve had a lot of people ask for recommendations for their upcoming trips.

It’s interesting that asking for travel recommendations is absolutely encouraged in society but asking for help in almost any other way is perceived internally as a weakness.

It’s something I struggle with mightily but I’m trying to improve at being willing to just ask for help. It’s one of those simple things that the more you do, the better you get at it. Ultimately, it pays great dividends.

Pokemon continues to thrive because its founders followed principles of success

Satoshi Tajiri went from an obscure town in Japan to the designer of a video game that led to the creation of the most highest grossing media franchise of all time surpassing other behemoths such as Star Wars, Mickey Mouse, Harry Potter, and even the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

He did this by building a team that was willing to follow him in adhering to 3 principles of success we can learn from. Here are some affirmation that I’m going to try and incorporate into my life.

First: You are a unique blend of experiences and it gives you the ability to add value into the world. Embrace that, even when the world doesn’t!

Second: Cutting things out often makes things better. Don’t be afraid to cut activities out of your life that aren’t adding value

Third: Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness, and it will be just as uplifting for the person I am asking for help as it is for me.

Looking forward to trying this out in the coming weeks! I’ll post updates as I see them in my life.