Leaping sideways across the innovation chasm seems to have its own rewards! My earphones broke last week and since all the tech-stores were locked down, I had to resort to a DIY fix with black electrical insulation tape. The result is not all that pretty, but it is now functional and somehow is more endearing than when I first purchased it a few years ago.
But the question remains - where did that additional value come from? – From renewed utility? Perhaps it was the insulation tape? or Maybe it was the mending of it. Possibly.
The idea of mending and the value received thereof is captured quite poetically in Kintsugi (金継ぎ), the centuries-old Japanese art of fixing broken pottery, and literally translates to ‘Golden joinery’. ModernMet writer Kelly Richman-Abdou described its process as follows, “Rather than rejoin ceramic pieces with a camouflaged adhesive, the Kintsugi technique employs a special tree sap lacquer dusted with powdered gold, silver, or platinum.” Kintsugi finds its inspiration in embracing imperfection and as if the cracks were wounds, it seems to have application to our own lives.
As we near completion of our fourth lockdown in India, there is an urgency to jolt the economy back to pre COVID-19 levels. Industry captains are on news channels screaming about skewed government action (or inaction) since February 2020 and the government, in return, is responding with massive economic stimulus packages. Politicians continue to bathe in mud whilst the common person is out in the sun (literally), suffering. We seem to be in such a tearing hurry that we risk repressing or ignoring the trauma of the past seventy days. Whilst getting the economy back on track is critical, it should not be at the risk of a mental health crisis.
Mental wellness helplines across India are reporting a significant surge in the number of calls, 3000 per day, according to the Ministry of Health and Welfare. This trend is not just specific to India, it is a global issue. Job loss, salary cuts, increased work hours, balancing family care, isolation, the loss of a loved one and their impact on anxiety, panic and depression in individuals are becoming common place. Business leaders are also faced with several pressing challenges, deciding when to reopen; redefining their business model; and providing a safe environment for employees and customers, amongst others.
Its safe to say that we are yet to realize the full impact of the aftershocks of this event and their effects on the population, especially its working members. This piece does not seek to provide a solution to the mental health crisis – that should be attempted and delivered by professionals only. However, I want to share a few questions that may put us in the right frame of mind when we engage with our teams, partners and even customers.
In Kintsugi, we find inspiration because the cracks and repair are acknowledged as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise. Quite explicitly, it teaches us that broken objects are not something to discard, but to nurture back to use. Its scars make it unique and tells its own story of resilience. Our minds deserve the same.
Perhaps that’s why Ernest Hemingway wrote in his novel, A Farewell to Arms, “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.”
P.S. A picture of my mended earphones.
I have been reading with interest the increased number of published articles around working from home, the best tools for making remote working easier and ‘ultimate’ lists for maximizing productivity since the lockdown of COVID-19. Like everyone, the first few weeks went by in readjusting to this new environment, temporally, emotionally, and spatially. After all, this was the world’s largest work-from-home experiment and we were all riding a wave of upturned schedules, potential strained professional (and personal) connections, and a negative sense of belonging (albeit temporary). But experienced remote workers showed us that connectedness can improve over time and that was an encouraging sign.
I invested a reasonable amount of time preparing strategies and identifying tools to cope but I was caught off-guard by the FOMO on apps that I might use to give me (and my team) an edge. The thought that I might, without some shiny new tool, prioritize tasks haphazardly, somehow miss an email thread accidentally creating a bottleneck or appear on a web call with staccato audio and an annoyed prospect, brought out untold anxiety. From there I tumbled down the internet rabbit-hole for a few hours and was left exhausted with the options available. Scores of apps for time-tracking, project management, product road mapping, social collaboration, mental health and the list went on. Thankfully, my anxiety was laid to rest after an hour in front of the telly.
This time last year, the fictional world of Westeros (Game of Thrones or GoT) and its ensemble were dealing with their own brand of chaos and I indulged in TV nostalgia by watching, ‘Game of Thrones: The Last Watch’. A documentary chronicling the creation of Game of Thrones’ final season, its most ambitious and anticipated one. It had a segment featuring David Nutter, the show’s main director and his work process. David Nutter, for the uninitiated, directed GoT’s iconic Red Wedding and Walk of Shame episodes. He is sought after in the industry to direct TV pilots and is often called ‘the Stephen Spielberg of TV’.
On the sets of GoT, Mr. Nutter and his team are orchestrating the show’s characters, setting complex scenes & narrative, coordinating shoots across locations, instructing thousands of crew members, and managing an audience’s expectation that was even larger than the wall in the north! Even within this environment, Mr. Nutter continues to use his mostly analog process including paper printouts of floor plans, hand drawn instructions and cast reading sessions that complemented his visual thinking style. This process is something that he had developed from experience and honed over time. Considering the amount of technology, the show utilizes, from production to marketing, it was insightful to see him in action. Using a work system that allowed him to produce the content the way he knew how to do it.
Therein lies the lesson, I suppose, that productivity is deeply personal, like one’s education or money is to them. To emulate the method and tools blindly from the above example would be a fruitless exercise. To combine self-awareness, simplicity and tools that feel right (behaviorally) would be going in the right direction.
We're now forty-five days into the new normal and as a product team have adopted a minimalist philosophy to our choice of tools and processes. We've also prioritized communication and discuss everything from statistical models to dinner recipes! I expect we'll refine our approach over time but so far, this seems to be working for us.