Where Broken, Come Back Stronger

by Jamie Flinchbaugh on 07-09-20

Many things are broken today – hospitals, businesses, processes, sales channels, collaborations, and even people. While I actually believe more things will return to normal that is often reported (albeit taking a couple / few years).  I think “return to normal” misses the point. When something is broken, there is opportunity. There is choice. There is deliberateness. There is purpose. What will you do with what’s broken?

I’m reminded of the Japanese art and discipline (it’s both, and that’s important) of kintsugi. Fundamentally, this is when ceramics are broken (such as a bowl or vase), they are reconnected, glued with lacquer, and then the cracks are not hidden but highlighted using gold. The objective is to make the repaired item more beautiful and valuable than the original one, while also preserving what would have been discarded. This video is a great description of kintsugi. 




What if we applied kintsugi to our businesses, our processes, and ourselves. Take what’s been broken, and don’t just fix it. Fix it and make it better. Fix it and make it beautiful. 

This is a key difference between genuine lean cultures and those that just adopt problem-solving practices. We don’t just try to “close the gap to standard.” That might be the problem statement, and the minimum threshold of success, but that’s not the behavior. When a lean thinker engages in a problem, there is a perspective of what the ideal state could be. Unconstrained by what we need to do, and unconstrained by what we are able to do, we think about what we could do. Once we get into the actual solutions, we certainly consider what is needed and what is possible. We have to deal with the constraints. But it’s extremely valuable to think about what is ideal, unconstrained, to make what is broken better. 

In today’s world so much has been broken, look at the innovation that is taking place that doesn’t have to go back when COVID19 is a distant memory. Organizations, from hospitals to factories, have created new ways to disinfect, but more efficiently and better. Pizza is delivered “touchless” – and just imagine how many hours delivery people stand at doors waiting for someone to answer. For my own example, just about all of my income involved getting on an airplane. That’s over for a while, and that broke a lot of things. But I didn’t just focus on getting by, I focused on how to make it better. And while I’m still experimenting, designing, and creating, I have no doubts that much of my work will be better remote than it was, because I’ve used what’s broken to reinvent. 

So adopt the concept of kintsugi. Take what’s broken and make it better and more beautiful than before.