What Millennials Can Learn From the Creator of the Game Boy

Whether it’s nabbing an interview or a seat in first class, we all know “it’s all about who you know.” That’s the promise at the heart of LinkedIn at least — foster professional relationships with those around you, and with a little bit of luck and grit, an opportunity will present itself.

Now comes the part where I’m going to talk (as promised) about Nintendo. More specifically, I’m going to talk about Gunpei Yokoi, a man who — before inventing the Game Boy and becoming one of the most prolific game designers of all time — started his career on the floor at a Nintendo warehouse as an assembly line electrician.

Currently work in a restaurant? The mall? Your parent’s basement? Feel like you’re in a dead-end job? Here’s what we can learn from Yokoi.

1. No job is small if you do it big.

In 1965, Gunpei Yokoi was fresh out of Doshisha University, working on an assembly line making playing cards at a little company called Nintendo. From the get-go, Gunpei showed grit. He might not have been doing what he dreamed of doing, but he dedicated himself to his task at hand entirely. He didn’t just work hard, he built connections with everyone in the company — especially his superiors. Which brings us to our second point …

2. Transcend your job description.

Even as an entry level worker or a new hire, there are tons of ways to innovate. Whether it’s getting your employer on social media or just keeping a record of customer complaints to see what could be done better, innovation is often about doing something that’s not in your job description. In Gunpei’s case, it was tinkering behind the scenes. And since he’d ingratiated himself to the higher-ups, doing his job(s) with a smile and treating everyone with respect, his ideas got a warm reception.

Gunpei began designing toys for Nintendo in the 1970s, but he was far from done. As head of a brand new research and development department, he began to experiment with crystal screens on a small scale. First was a Love Tester, then the Game & Watch series — inventions that propelled Nintendo out of obscurity forever.

And then along came the Game Boy.


3. Deposit before you withdraw.

Allow me to reiterate — none of this happened overnight. It took Gunpei five years at Nintendo to launch his first product and another nineteen before the Game Boy was born. That doesn’t mean you can’t distinguish yourself right off the bat. And whether you’re a hostess, a sales clerk, or a warehouse worker at Nintendo, your late nights will not go unnoticed. Any employer will be receptive to an idea — or a promotion — if you’ve paid your dues.

And as you move up in the ranks, from newbie to point person to team leader, be sure to nurture your connections. You never know who could come up with The Next Big Thing.

Later in his career, Gunpei agreed to mentor a young designer by the name of Shigeru Miyamoto. Ever heard of Donkey Kong, Legend of Zelda, Mario Bros.? Yep. It was that guy. Their connection and collaboration changed gaming forever.

You may not re-invent the Game Boy. In fact, you probably won’t. But you can’t play victim-in-a-dead-end-job if you’re not owning your network. So stay late on a Friday night. Practice forced serendipity. Voice insights to a supervisor. Pride in your work fuels better work — you’ll be the most positive janitor/server/associate on the team. And sooner or later, someone is bound to notice.

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