I love it when I discover a great new word — a word I’ve never heard before that describes something in a useful and specific way. A few years ago my treasured new word was “sprezzatura,” an Italian word that means “the art of making things look easy.” What a great word — and what a great description of how to carry yourself in many difficult situations.
My newest word is “bricolage.” I came across it recently in an article about innovation. It’s a French word that means “the construction or creation of a work from a diverse range of things that happen to be available.”
The most famous example of bricolage I can think of is that famous scene from Apollo 13. The engineers in Houston have to figure out how the astronauts on board the troubled spacecraft can build a life-saving adapter for themselves out of the materials they have on hand. And they have to do it really fast because otherwise the astronauts will die. This is the event that prompted the famous quote, “Failure is not an option.” It turns out this quote was made up for the script of the movie, but it certainly captures the urgency of this critical project.
Adopting bricolage in business
Bricolage accurately captures the challenge many business leaders are facing right now. Think of the small business owners who are finding all kinds of new ways to utilize the materials, talent, relationships, and resources they already have. Think of the corporate leaders who are working from home and taking advantage of the tools, technology, and processes at hand to stay in touch with their people, provide direction and inspiration, and ensure that the necessary work continues to get done.
Bricolage will be equally important in the next phase of the crisis, as businesses begin to cautiously ramp up and reassemble themselves. As they put the pieces back together, there will be opportunities — and requirements — to build something new and better out of their available resources. Many businesses will be in very tight financial circumstances for some time to come, so creation and innovation will have to happen within the constraints of what is already at hand.
As I talk with my clients, I’m sensing that this innovative spirit is already in the air. In the midst of this frightening time, that spirit provides hope and reassurance that individuals and organizations are going to figure this out. If you would some assistance in your own company’s bricolage, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Bricolage, here we come!