Kintsugi, or golden repair, is the Japanese artform of using gold to fix broken pottery. People often use it as an analogy for how we can take something that looks broken and rebuild it to be better than it was before. And that makes it a valuable way of thinking in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
COVID-19 has shaken our world, from health systems to economies to societies, and governments, organisations and individuals are all seeing uncertainty in their futures. The pottery of our lives isn’t yet completely broken, but the support for our emerging new reality is an infrastructure designed for a previous time. If nothing changes, big things will break – reports of high street collapse are just the beginning.
By thinking like the kintsugi artist, looking for the gold to rebuild in a new way, organisations can reuse what they have and make targeted investments to pivot while minimising disruption and thriving in the new reality.
People’s lives have shifted, which has cracked the workforce infrastructure that supports them, keeps economies afloat and binds societies together. To embrace the approach of a kintsugi artist and rebuild it to be better than it was, we need to challenge three traditional ways of thinking about the workforce:
If you look at a pot, it’s difficult to imagine how you would fix it if it broke. But the kintsugi artist knows they can turn such a solid structure into something better.
Similarly, in organisations, it’s easy to believe there’s only one way of doing things, especially with people. Policies and processes reinforce how, when and where we work, making it seem the only feasible reality. For example, challenging beliefs about people working from home used to be unimaginable for many – 60% now work from home, up from 30% a year ago. Then the pandemic broke that ‘pot’ of workforce beliefs. That forced organisations to think differently about the problem – and they adapted. Quickly.
As the current crisis continues to evolve, challenges will emerge for organisations. Rather than wait for them, we recommend thinking like a kintsugi artist and start acting now:
When the pot breaks, the kintsugi artist considers how to transform it into something better. And they find inspiration in a surprising place – not using glue or fresh clay, but gold.
In organisations, it’s easy to resort to familiar solutions. But the world has started to adjust to the crisis, so there must be new answers to these new problems. We’ve entered a new era of working. Organisations must, like the kintsugi artist, look ‘outside’ for inspiration. We recommend two sources in particular:
The kintsugi artist can’t treat the gold that fixes the pot like glue or ceramic. Instead, they harness gold’s unique properties to turn the pot into beautiful artwork.
Technology and processes too often lead traditional organisational change, with people slotted in as an afterthought. Such thinking needs to change in this new world. We’re living in a time of an increasingly varied workplace set-up. People in their homes are driving this variety – they’re adapting, using their ‘gold’ (or unique abilities and aptitudes), to create a workplace that enables them to be productive.
So, organisations must work with their people to unlock those golden properties. We recommend doing three things:
COVID-19 continues to cause significant challenges to people and organisations. Things are uncertain but by thinking like a kintsugi artist, organisations can come out of this global crisis stronger. They must identify future problems and challenge limiting beliefs, they must look outside for inspiration, and they must leverage their people as the gold they need to rebuild. Only then can they create a better workforce future.