Kintsugi, Innovation, and Organizational Democracy

By: Guest | July 31, 2012 | 

Today’s guest post is written by Jason Konopinski. 

Kintsugi (“gold joinery”) is a traditional Japanese restoration technique used in the repair of cracked and broken ceramicware.

First developed at some point in the 15th century, the technique uses a lacquer resin to reattach cracked and broken ceramic ware; the resulting veins are then coated with silver or gold powder.

The subtlety of the aesthetic philosophy focuses on the imperfections themselves rather than attempting to disguise them.

Often, we try to repair broken things in such a way as to conceal the repair and make it “good as new.”

Instead, by aggrandizing the damage and venerating the object complete with its flaws, kintsugi expresses the belief that part of what makes our legacy interesting and beautiful are the very things that so many of us try to sweep under the carpet or otherwise obscure from view.

Christy Barlett writes in an essay collected in Flickwerk: The Aesthetics of Mended Japanese Ceramics:

Not only is there no attempt to hide the damage, but the repair is literally illuminated… a kind of physical expression of the spirit of mushin….Mushin is often literally translated as “no mind,” but carries connotations of fully existing within the moment, of non-attachment, of equanimity amid changing conditions.

How Does this Relate to PR?

The practice of kintsugi can offer insights into the way we see our digital legacy, bringing to mind how quickly Western culture discards the broken – objects, people, and relationships. We fail to see what the broken might look like if we put the resources into mending it.

As we live out more of our lives online, we have to recognize mistakes will happen. We’re human, after all, and that’s a part of our condition as such.

The news is filled with instances of brands playing ostrich when criticisms come to a head. They get defensive in response to customer complaints and media coverage that unearths impropriety and scandal; and emerge with a tarnished brand reputation.

What fuels digital communication is people. Fallible, flawed people who sometimes do blatantly stupid things. We allow our tempers to get the better of us, and get political when it’s probably best we keep our mouths shut.

Our digital legacy is being written with every tweet, status update, and blog comment; speaking to our character, the way we treat others, and, perhaps most importantly, how we view ourselves.

William Shakespeare captured the sentiment of a reputation economy perfectly in “Much Ado About Nothing” (“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players,” Act II, scene VII) and even the most banal communication between individuals can be viewed through a strategic lens and broken down tactically.

When others are watching as in the case of social media and digital communications, there’s an aspect of the theatrical and performative in every snippet of conversation and every exchange. There’s always an audience in the wings.

Innovation and Organizational Democracy

When we look at the very human foibles that pepper the social landscape, it’s worth remembering that failures contain opportunities to learn and grow. Better ideas come through experimentation and, yes, even failure. Many people succeed at producing innovations because they churn out a very large number of ideas, both good and bad.

It’s really a numbers game: More ideas and more creative risks mean the probability of hitting success, and it’s companies that can embrace (and flourish in) a corporate culture built on experimentation and learning from foul-ups that are best positioned to succeed in launching innovative products and business models. They are also likely to attract talent that believe passionately in their work, are intrinsically motivated, and thrive in a decentralized and dynamic work environment.

One such organization is WorldBlu, a global network of organizations that are committed to practicing freedom and democracy in the workplace. CEO Traci Fenton defines World Blu’s mission as, “Working to unleash human potential and inspire freedom by championing the growth of democratic organizations worldwide.”

What’s exciting about moving towards organizational democracy in the enterprise are the potential affects on innovation. If employees are encouraged to speak their mind and play in the sandbox, we can help define what it means to fail, to learn from our stumbles, and embrace a sense of personal history through our work.

Jason Konopinski is the head pen monkey and content strategist for hire at JMK Media & Communications in Hanover, Pa. An advocate of social good and strong storytelling, Jason works with small-to-medium sized corporate and agency clients to produce rock-solid audience responsive content. He is currently seeking new full-time opportunities as a copywriter and digital content creator in the agency world. Follow him on Twitter at jasonkonopinksi.


  • I love Kintsugi! and the idea of venerating faults rather than covering them up. I have a lot of stupid jokes right now but I’m drinking wine and my filter is telling my to shut up while I’m ahead. So I will. 

    • @Lisa Gerber Ha! That’s probably for the best since I have a belly full of bourbon. #sassy

  • belllindsay

    Jason, you are so smart. And wordy. And a great writer. I love the philosophy of focussing on the imperfections. I’m gonna start applying that philosophy to my rapidly aging face. 😉 xo 

    • rdopping

       @belllindsay you don’t look a day past 12.

      • belllindsay

         @rdopping HAHAHA! The cheque’s in the mail!! 😀 

    •  @belllindsay Aww shucks. 
      Kintsugi really is a wonderful aesthetic philosophy. See also: Wabi-sabi. 🙂

      • belllindsay

         @jasonkonopinski Is that the hot stuff you get with sushi…? ;P 

      •  @jasonkonopinski Crap! I didn’t read down this far before I made my wabi sabi comment…honest!

  • magriebler

    I’m bookmarking this one for the days when my imperfections don’t look quite as pretty as antique Japanese ceramic ware. Oh yeah. Like today. 🙂
    But seriously, this is a really beautiful image that I think may help lower my blood pressure when I confront the “F” word. (And I don’t mean the one that rhymes with the title of this blog.) Thank you!

    •  @magriebler I’m so glad that this post resonated with you! For me, the way that we present our flaws (and learn from them!) tells others a lot about our individual characters. Failure happens, mistakes happen – but the important thing is what we take away and do with the lessons wrapped up in those failures. 

    •  @magriebler Fin?

      • magriebler

         @ginidietrich Yes. Exactly. My fins are always getting me down.

  • rdopping

    Jason, that has to be one of the best pieces I have read in a long, long time. Somehow you friended me on Facebook for which I am grateful. THAT doesn’t happen too often. Just ask Gini Dietrich  she knows.
    I don’t know a thing about kintsugi but I love bourbon and old classic Neil Young which counts for something and I also have tolerance for people who err because I am fallible and human, like you, and everyone else. That has a heart. 

    •  @rdopping  Gini Dietrich Cheers Ralph! You’ve made me blush. 🙂 

      •  @jasonkonopinski  @rdopping  Nothing makes Ralph grateful. Except maybe seeing me throw my legs into kdillabough arms.

        • rdopping

          @ginidietrich @jasonkonopinski @kdillabough Sveiks. Now THAT I would be grateful for.

  • 3sarkar

    This might appear in evaluating a person’s career path or CV, too.Not all parts might seem “ideal” or in perfect temporal/spatial/organizational harmony, but all have  had an effect on making the person who s(he) is.

  • What a great approach! I think people grow weary of the “We know best!” and “We’re always right!” and “No mistakes here, please keep moving!” responses to challenges.  This is a lovely way to illustrate a different way to view and approach adversity, more subtle and far more effective than the “every problem is an opportunity” cliche. Thanks, @jasonkonopinski .

  • KDillabough

    @ginidietrich heading over there now: been out all day. Should I be scared? ;)))

  • This puts me in mind of wabi sabi, or seeing the beauty, worth or value in imperfection. Leonard Cohen said it best when he wrote:”Ring the bells that still can ring Forget your perfect offering There’s a crack in everything That’s how the light gets in.”And we learn most from our mistakes, not the things we do well. Keeping on my current Olympics theme: Olympic athletes become champions only after many, many mistakes. [And if you’re looking for a very lovely book on wabi sabi (it’s a children’s book and oh-so-good) this is a personal favourite of mine:
    Cheers! Kaarina

    •  @KDillabough Wabi-sabi is a lovely philosophy indeed. I suppose kintsugi is really an example of wabi-sabi in practice.