Though I have a comment about this:
I know personally about workaholism and how it can ruin peoples' lives, because it has affected me personally. However, there is a difference between workaholism and work ethic. We don't know how long Iwata worked per day, and his life habits, so it's not safe to jump to conclusions. All we know is that, even though he was dying of cancer, he cared enough about his legacy and Nintendo as a company to fight to the end. It's courage and devotion.
I sort of agree with hunter_alien here, partially because of what you just pointed out regarding how we don't know the details of his work schedule.
So while I wouldn't reprimand him for it, I'd also chose not to highlight it as something positive either. (Maybe if I knew the details.)
The reason being is that Japan is very overworked. Especially in this type of deadline centric office working industry.
People commonly take on a lot more responsibility than they should, because it is treated as something positive.
So intentionally or not, Iwata working while battling cancer can be weaponized.
How many employees thought twice about staying home when not feeling well after that happened?
Having dealt with someone with workaholism in my very close circle, I wholeheartedly agree that people should be careful not to damage their health due to overworking themselves. It is possible that Iwata suffered from this kind of stress that the Japanese traditional work life can cause. Having said that, here are the things I saw, perhaps it could give us clues:
- When he was sick, he did not go to E3 and stayed home. Muppets were used to portray him. This shows his human side in that, while he couldn't be there, he used creativity to stay "with" us while he physically couldn't, and took care of his health during that time.
- He advocated for a healthy lifestyle via the QoL program, and promoted new active gaming experiences with the Wii, and healthy mental jogging with the DS. This shows his focus on health that trickled into different areas of what he created.
- He had a focus on building people and fostering a positive environment, we also know that he didn't want his employees affected by the WiiU incidents and took the pay cut on himself. This shows a care for other people. It's hard to care for others and not have that same spirit for yourself and your family. It's possible, but rare. But it's safer to assume he cared about others and those closest to him, and thus also his employees and himself.
- He returned to work when he felt better, and led until the end seemingly out of concern for his legacy.
It's still possible, given what we know about him, that he was acting out of anxiety, I wouldn't rule it out completely, but his life and work seem to paint another picture. I totally appreciate your interpretation, and it's good that we see things differently, esp. because workaholism is a real problem in japan.
To give you one hint at what's happening inside the Nintendo buildings, there is info on the work life at Monolith which was previously under Namco and now operate under Nintendo.
"It’s been about two years since Xenoblade developers Monolith Soft have opened a new studio in Kyoto to be closer to the Nintendo headquarters. During a recent creator’s interview at CG World, Monolith Soft shared how the new Kyoto studio has been working out thus far.
The Kyoto studio is located near the famous local junction of Shijoukarasuma, where the staff members can look outside their windows to enjoy the summer festivities from the comfort of their office. Most of the employees in the Kyoto branch consist of artists with their average age being in the late twenties, and a high ratio of female staff members.
That may seem like a lot of work for a small studio consisting of about 30 members, but the office atmosphere is reportedly very laid-back. The Kyoto studio’s work hours start at 9 am and end at 6 pm. Any overtime work is not accepted without permission from superiors, but when employees do work overtime, they are paid for it, which is a rare occurrence in Japan.
One of the big opportunities that put the appointed weekly hours into action came from the 2006 occupational safety and health act revision, which demanded a more thorough employee time management,” says director Yasuyuki Honne. He further shares his beliefs that development styles which anticipate overtime work have already reached their limit. With that in mind, Monolift Soft’s company motto, “Zero overtime and creative work allowed” is what they now go by."
While it's true that is was introduced thanks to a push by the 2006 occupational safety and health act revision, they called it an opportunity and used it as their motto, which shows that they were with it 100%, and this was greenlit by Nintendo under Iwata.
I guess, I'd like to share with you how it inspired me personally. One of my greatest values in leadership in life, and in work, is the person who leads by example. I admire the kind of leader/manager who is there getting his hands dirty and doing the gritty work. Iwata was someone who, as a president, showed me an example of the kind of leader I want to be. He was human, funny, very technical, results-driven, creative, caring and dedicated. He was able to dive into deep technical issues while being company executive at HAL, one of those rare presidents who is able to do the most technical work. He was a go-getter, and showed us hard work even during his illness. This can project in two opposite ways: 1) work hard, even when life throws you a curve ball, 2) overwork even while you're sick. As much as I support the japanese people in their struggle with workaholism, I can't help but admire this man's leadership throughout his career.
Maybe I'll share an anecdote, to lighten the mood and share a personal story. I worked for a small ecological group for a summer gig a few years ago. My colleague was a girl doing a Ph.D in biology, and did not have much money due to her studies. She had gotten sick, and after a few days I started to worry for her. I had a slight crush on her, so I allowed myself to tell her that she should probably stop coming in to work and go home to get better. She was coughing very hard and had a runny nose and eyes, but she told me not to worry about her, and kept coming in to work, it was hard physical work with heavy things to lift, and lots of hard movements to clean big fishing nets for the city. At first I was surprised that she didn't hear my words which I thought were wise, but then I realized that sometimes it's important to fight in life, and she showed me an example of that.
I know that people can spend excessive hours on their desks in the name of work, missing time with their loved ones and hurting their health, I've seen and fought against it, so I can see both sides. In the case of Iwata though I see it more of him just being fully invested in something he believed in, and not necessarily at the detriment of his health, perhaps rather it energized him in a good way. I'm saying this in light of what we know about his character.
In the end, workaholism is like any other drug, a lack of self-control causes the person to indulge, and work allows the person to pander to their affective needs by consuming their work. In japan it can be lethal so it's important to discuss. Finally, we will never know if that was the case for Iwata, but his life story tells us something different. Still, how important it is to encourage people in japan and where we live to seek healthy work environments in their future or current jobs and support that, while still respecting hard work and great work ethic where we see it and encourage it. It's not an easy balance, but in the end, it all boils down to their mindset and only they can know that about themselves and figure it out. We can only show the way and stay patient.