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Note 84: Nintendo, Apple and You
On being human, from 2 counterintuitively successful companies
Nintendo and Apple are surprisingly similar.
I’ve had the connection on my mind for a while, but feared I might be overthinking it. Then I listened to a podcast deep dive (more on which later) into Nintendo’s history, and the more I learned about Nintendo, the more I noticed how similar they are to Apple.
I’ll definitely do a more complete essay on this, but here are a few of the similarities—keep an eye out as you read for a thread running through:
Both chose early on to transcend their industries. Nintendo, with the first Donkey Kong, introduced art and storytelling to video games. Apple introduced the idea of computers as tools not just for doing work, but also making art.
Both are very focused on profitably delivering great experiences over claiming best-in-class specs, and fully embrace the associated trade-offs: while they’ll use the best tech they can, if they can deliver a great experience with older tech while still making good money, they won’t hesitate to irrespective of criticism. They actually pride themselves on their ability to make the most of seemingly constrained technology.
In lieu of focusing on measurable specs, both companies have historically focused on things that can’t be measured: delight or fun, intuitive ease of use, earning customer trust (and therefore loyalty). For both, innovation in tech is only useful to the degree that it enables innovation in experience.
The focus on customer experience means that design matters, and both companies are well known for having been first in their industries to have design lead engineering, rather than follow. And that means for both companies that great taste is at least as important as spreadsheets.
The obsession with experience has had them always leaning toward controlling the whole system. This desire often gets framed as merely for profit, but while it’s profitable when it works, it’s also often led them to leave money on the table.
The focus on experiences has also led them to repeatedly create products that unlocked entirely new markets away from industry competitors, and in which they are practically monopolies. Nintendo has mostly owned the portable console market (Game Boy, then Switch) and Apple practically owns the smartwatch and tablet markets—loyal customers included.
Because of how contrarian both are, everyone keeps expecting their approach to fail, but even when they’ve had massive failures, both have come back to amazing new success. As an unnamed video game exec reportedly put it: “We’ve all thought Nintendo was going to go out of business for the last 20 years.” And of course, “Apple is doomed” headlines have never gone out of fashion.
See the common thread?
By focusing on delivering great experiences and therefore prioritising design, great taste and other immeasurables, Nintendo and Apple put being human at the forefront of their vision of business. And if that sounds silly, well, you can see why it’s not readily copied, and why industry watchers tend to expect their imminent downfall.
To me, though, their success represents proof to me that caring, and especially caring about our humanness, matters, from the greatest of businesses to our everyday lives.
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Caring is infectious
The podcast on which I learned about all this was the Acquired podcast, and I only came to know of it when its Nintendo episodes were recommended in an online discussion about the new Mario film. But here’s the crazy thing: the two episodes (here and here) are each over 3 hours long.
Yeah, you read that right. Three hours.
But my goodness, does that time pass quick! These guys know their business, but even better, you can tell they enjoy what they do. Listening to them talk about Nintendo’s history, you quickly find yourself invested in knowing what went down. And they also throw in these little details—like, did you know Nintendo started out making card games, most likely for Japanese mafia gambling?
Honestly, give it a listen: just the first half hour (or hour, if you’re up to it). Even if you stop after that, I think you’ll find it far more interesting than you’d expect.
It’s a reminder of how infectious it is to care deeply about something. Not everyone will catch it—some of my friends didn’t see what I was so excited about—but like with any virus (in this case, a good one) those who are susceptible will catch it.
I think you’ll find that while caring deeply about stuff may push some away, you’ll find that those who’re drawn to you form far stronger connections.
My armour, mi amor
Meanwhile, speaking of essays that started as an idea in these Notes on Being Human, my essay this week started just that way.
If you’re curious to see how the way I wrote about this changed from newsletter to essay, feel free to click the link.
Being vulnerable is risky.
I think about that a lot in my work, which frequently has me exploring with people the less-pleasant aspects of themselves. And then while recently watching the new season of Shadow and Bone on Netflix (a fantasy series based on a set of YA novels—mild spoilers coming up), I heard a line that resonated deeply. The context was of a character with a history of keeping closed off rather than risk being vulnerable, in response to which another character said:
I will have you without your armour… Or I will not have you at all.”
That got me thinking about the clothes that we wear underneath armour, and our nakedness underneath that. And the whole thing got me thinking about an old story.
Read the whole thing here:
Taking off your (emotional) clothes is hard: A reflection on shame and vulnerability
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