Kintsugi: Japanese art of repairing broken pottery for your Family Business

If it Ain’t Broke, Break It?

In 2011, Mathew Knowles, Beyonce's father, witnessed the failure of his family and career in front of a large audience. The singer and actress fired him as her manager after a disagreement over tour revenue.

Gordon Ramsey, a celebrity chef, delegated extensive control over business matters to his father-in-law, only to fire him in 2010 following accusations of personal use of company funds.

It's unlikely that a crisis in your family business will make the front pages of the newspapers. But that isn't much consolation for you or your loved ones.

Because they must handle conflicting sets of demands, family business executives face a considerably more difficult task than solo entrepreneurs in running enterprises.

A cherished cup or bowl — perhaps a family antique — slips from our fingers and smashes to bits on the floor. Our bodies and spirits are torn apart by a serious sickness or injury.

What can we do to help these wounds heal? Should we wish for, or even expect, a return to the past? No, it's not true. Our bodies, our businesses, and our society will never be the same as they were, just as a shattered bowl can never be totally repaired.

The inability to return should be a source of despair. But, ironically, it's a good thing we can't go back — as the old Japanese art of kintsugi, which involves restoring broken pottery, demonstrates.

What is Kintsugi, its advantages, and what are you able to do as a family business leader/practitioner to apply Kintsugi? Notice the solution below.

Read: Improving Family Business Communication


You've probably seen it before without realizing it's a Japanese art form in which a pot, plate, or bowl is broken into pieces and then rebuilt.

Kintsugi is a Japanese art form that involves gluing shattered ceramic pieces together with gold. It is based on the belief that by accepting defects and faults, you may create a stronger, more beautiful work of art.

Kintsugi literally means "golden joining." Kintsugi, also known as kintsukuroi, is a 15th-century Japanese technique that involves gluing shattered parts together with painted lacquer and then coating the lacquer with powdered metal (typically gold, but more recently silver and platinum) to highlight the seams.

This kind of repair does not disguise defects in a vase, bowl, or cup. Ribbons of light arc and meander across the sides. In a smile, a chip is filled in and glows like a gold tooth. The gleaming end of a missing spout catches notice.

Kintsugi items are converted into fresh works of art by their mended and shining flaws. Even the most traditional shape is given a wildness and unpredictability that breathes fresh life into it.

Kintsugi evokes strong feelings of admiration and even veneration. Objects mended in this way, like people who refuse to apologize for their scars, are cherished precisely because they don't disguise their transformation.

Contrary to popular opinion, everything does not necessarily have a cause. People are subjected to unfortunate occurrences through no fault of their own. The beauty of kintsugi is that it accepts chance and the inevitability of things breaking, even if they are valuable.

The art is in the way it's reassembled, using glue-like ingredients and embellished with gold or other "fancy" features.

As a result, the reassembled item is now even more stunning and unique than the original.

Kintsugi for Family Business

Of course, there's also a resilience component to this, which is particularly timely given the ongoing pandemic.

Our collective vessel was shattered by the pandemic that struck this past year. The breakdowns occurred quickly and were terrible to witness and experience. However, only six months later, the first indications of gold are seen.

Remote employment is proving to be more flexible for businesses. Supply chains are being strengthened and resiliency is being improved. Business continuity plans have been put in place for the first time or have been tested and modified.

The performing arts have been particularly heavily struck by the pandemic, with practically all in-person events being canceled. Organizations that are quick and resourceful, on the other hand, are keen to explore virtual space. They're discovering an unexpected intimacy online, as well as new means to connect performer and audience, as well as new means to share their art and message around the globe.

What gold patterns will reveal the cracks in our civil society? It's too early to say. Even while we gather the pieces, the damage continues to spread. People are banding together to patch up their collective wounds, as they have in so many other areas

There is hope that efforts to mend what has broken will eventually lead to something even better, from imaginative methods for keeping food pantries stocked to local organizations volunteering to pick up trash when sanitation budgets have been cut.

Read: Sibling Rivalry in Family Business

How can you apply some of these Kintsugi practices to your family business life?

  1. Family Members Aren’t All Equal

We all know that family members are not created equal, as each has their own skills and ambitions, resulting in unique contributions.

Some people face obstacles in life that are either wholly unintentional or for which they are primarily responsible.

Regardless, they are still family members, even if they are slightly "broken."

One of the characteristics of some corporate families is their amazing ability to assist individuals who are "broken," even putting them back together and making them stronger, and finding ways to make them contributing members of the group.

  1. Family Narrative with All the Warts

Storytelling appears to be all the rage these days, and for many families, creating and sharing a "family narrative" has shown to be beneficial.

When telling the tale of a family's journey to their current status, it's critical to include both the accomplishments and the mistakes.

  1. The FamBiz Wind-Down or Wind-Up

When a family business is sold and a "liquidity event" occurs, the family may find it difficult to establish reasons for staying together to manage their wealth and assets.

Imagine the company as a shattered pot or vase, and the family's efforts to find new methods and reasons to stay together as the gluing that holds everything together in a stronger and more beautiful way.

Read: Family Business Challenge -3 Issues You Can't Ignore


The old adage goes, "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade." A bitter truth, on the other hand, cannot always be sweetened and drank away.

Kintsugi is well aware of this. It recognizes that, while our breaks are permanent, the wounds they leave should never reduce us. They become part of our past, a source of wisdom and a reminder of our might, by being covered in gold that never fades.

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