Lesson #2: Be Able to Say “I did it My Way”

No matter where young Tajiri went as a boy, it seemed he never quite fit in. He collected insects when most of his friends were cramming for college. He spent his money playing video games when most of the other kids were saving up. And, he always remained just a little bit to himself.

Tajiri was an outcast, a person the Japanese called otaku. He had one or two obsessions which preoccupied his time, and he shut himself off to the rest of the world. Tajiri always preferred spending time with his insects more than with people, or playing video games more than living in reality.

But while Tajiri’s obsessions worried his parents, who were convinced that their son was a misfit and turning the wrong corners in life, refusing to change his ways for anyone else allowed him to go on to create what would become the Pokemon phenomenon the world knows today.

To this day, Tajiri maintains his reputation as a quirky game developer. Although he no longer physically goes on the hunt for beetles, Tajiri’s habits are still a sign of his uniqueness. For instance, if you do not see Tajiri around the office for an entire day, it is because he is sleeping. “It’s the way I work,” says Tajiri. “I sleep 12 hours and then work 24 hours. I've worked those irregular hours for the past three years. It's better to stay up day and night to come up with ideas. I usually get inspiration for game designing by working this schedule.”

Tajiri has always shunned the limelight. Even after his tremendous success with Pokemon, he kept his company in the same office it had always been: two floors in a simple office building. But Tajiri was never worried about what anyone else thought of him or his habits.

That is the same attitude with which he approached Pokemon. Before then, Game Boy was host to a number of games, but all of them were about competition. “I liked competition too,” says Tajiri. “But I wanted to design a game that involved interactive communication. Remember, there was no Internet then. The concept of the communication cable is really Japanese: one-on-one. It's like karate - two players compete, they bow to each other. It's the Japanese concept of respect.”

In Pokemon, none of the monsters are really evil. As Tajiri describes it, “If a horse runs over you and you die, then the horse is bad. But if you're riding the horse, the horse is your ally. So, if you have a monster in your collection, then it's considered good. But if not, it's still not considered bad, because it could be your friend one day.”

That is why when Tajiri first pitched the concept of Pokemon to Nintendo executives, they could not quite grasp it. But, just like he when he was a kid, Tajiri refused to give in. He stayed true to his vision and always insisted on doing things his way.

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