Kuroda Yukiko was a 28 year-old graphic designer working in advertising in Tokyo.

Advertising can be a stressful business and she was a quiet, gentle person; Kuroda began to get depressed and fell ill, physically and mentally.

Her lowest point came when a friend broke her most cherished dish and threw the pieces into the trash.

Kuroda said, “Everything seemed hopeless, the world had no use for the dish and no use for me.”

Not knowing what else to do, she got the pieces out of the trash and began to repair it.

Gradually she pieced the dish back together, slowly and carefully attending to every detail until eventually it was back in one piece, not perfect but whole.

Then an amazing thing happened, the repairs, instead of being invisible, made the dish more interesting than before.

Now it wasn’t just another mass-produced piece of bland porcelain, it had character like a painting or a sculpture, the cracks made it unique, even precious.

Kuroda had just rediscovered the 16th century Japanese art of Kint Tsugi, the beauty of imperfection.

The Kint Tsugi masters would use the sap from the Urushi tree to fix broken pieces together, then laquer and burnish repeatedly until perfect.

The last stage was to sprinkle gold or silver dust onto the repair and polish it so its delicacy was enhanced, and highlighted as the main feature of the piece.

It often takes months to perfect a piece, it is seen as a work of art and is worth many times more than the original unbroken piece.

In the 15 years since her first attempt, Kuroda has repaired at least 1,000 pieces and is now considered a master of Kint Tsugi.

She says, “When I work, my mind is free from distraction, free from worry, a feeling of true bliss.  I’m restoring a piece of pottery but I’m also restoring myself.”

By doing the opposite of conventional thinking, she found something much better.

It was the same with the ancient Japanese art of Sekitei, or rock gardens.

600 years ago, Japanese gardens competed with complex displays of flowering plants, waterfall-features, streams, and paths.

But the samurai warrior caste saw any form of indulgence as weakness, they shunned ostentation and displays of worldly goods,

They admired the simplicity, the self-discipline and ascetic nature of zen.

Consequently their choice of garden was the opposite of convention, totally without flowers and decoration, it was barren, formed by rocks and gravel.

The gravel was raked immaculately in parallel lines, perfectly straight until they came to a rock then in perfect concentric circles around it.

The exact geometric precision was finer than any naturally organic garden.

The effect was at once harsh and beautiful, monumental and delicate.

Steve Jobs once referred to rock gardens as, “The most sublime thing I’ve ever seen”.

Reina Ikeda summarises it, “In the west you are uncomfortable with emptiness or silence, and feel compelled to fill them in.

But in zen we have the concept of ‘yohau no bi‘, the beauty of emptiness.”

The true learning concerns the beauty of imperfection, and the beauty of emptiness.

Both are the opposite of conventional thinking.

In our advertising, the convention is to fill absolutely every inch of space, every second of air-time, until everything is so jam-packed it’s all just identical wallpaper.

Because, as Ikeda said, “In the west, you are frightened of emptiness and imperfection.”

So every space is crammed and indistinguishable from everything else.

Which means the real creative opportunity is the opposite of conventional thinking.

And that is what Mies van der Rohe meant when he said, “Sometimes, less is more”.