Kintsukuroi and Kaizen:


In today’s post, I will look at kintsukuroi and how it applies to lean. Kintsukuroi can be translated from Japanese as “to repair with gold”. This process converts broken ceramic pieces to beautiful art forms. The damaged piece is not thrown away, but is embellished by filling the cracks with a lacquer mixed with gold dust. The final product becomes more valuable than the original.

The Origin Story of Kintsukuroi:

There are several versions of the origin story.

Toyotomi Hideyoshi was a ferocious military ruler in Japan during the 1500’s. He was well known for his quick temper.

He hosted tea ceremonies which were well attended. He was particularly fond of a Korean Ido-style tea bowl. One day, a page handling the bowl accidentally dropped it and it broke into several pieces. Hideyoshi was furious at the page, and everybody feared for the poor page’s life.

One of the guests calmed the military ruler, and went away with the broken pieces of the bowl. He returned after a few days with a fully restored bowl that was “repaired with gold”. Hideyoshi was blown away by the beauty of the restored bowl, and he loved the repaired bowl even more. The repaired bowl was more valuable, more beautiful and became more cherished.

What can we learn from this?

I have been learning about Japanese culture for some time now and the concept of kintsukuroi fascinates me. The readers of my blog know that I enjoy connecting things together. I believe that the concept of kintsukuroi creates a new perspective on Kaizen.

As a lean leader, we should look at breaking the current process, and restoring it through process improvements (Kaizen). We are sometimes too close to the action that we fail to see the wastes in the process. We believe that the current process is adequate as is. We may not see opportunities to improve.

However, we should break apart the bowl, and restore it with gold. We should evaluate the process through the steps of ECRS:

  • Are there any steps we can Eliminate?
  • Are there any steps that we can Combine?
  • Are there any steps that we can Rearrange?
  • Are there any steps we can Simplify?

This is the basic idea of Kaizen. The new process should be more valuable than the old process, in that it has fewer wastes and it utilizes the available resources efficiently and effectively.

Each kintsukuroi process is unique. Similarly each process improvement activity is unique. One should understand the problem first and apply solutions. To understand the problem, one must break apart the process (bowl). Once the process is broken apart, one should utilize Kaizen thinking (gold lacquer mix) and put the process back together.

Always keep on learning…

If you enjoyed this post, you can read more here.

In case you missed it, my last post was What is my purpose?

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