Here's a story I've meant to write up for almost two years… some events that happened during pandemic times when I wasn't writing as much.
I wasn't writing as much, but I was podcasting more, including my newer series, “My Favorite Mistake.” I created and ordered some promotional custom coffee mugs to use as giveaways and thank-you gifts to guests. I used Zazzle, as I'd had good experiences with them in the past for mugs and custom t-shirts.
In April of 2021, I ordered ten mugs. Three or four of them arrived broken. Even though they were wrapped in bubble wrap, I think they were thrown into a box a little haphazardly, and they must have hit each other, causing some breakage. Handles were snapped off, and I think one mug was pretty shattered.
It was a packaging mistake, as their assumption about what would be effective didn't pan out. (See “What Are Mistakes?“)
Thankfully, there were no customer service mistakes or problems. Zazzle cheerfully sent me replacement mugs. That was fine, and I didn't think it necessary to take pictures of any of this — because how interesting are broken mugs and bad packaging?
So asks the guy writing a blog post about this…
But here's where it gets more interesting (I could be wrong, LOL).
I ordered another ten coffee mugs in November 2021. FOUR of the ten arrived broken. I reported the problem to Zazzle, and of the four replacement mugs… ONE of the four was broken. So yeah, they then sent a replacement for that broken replacement… and it arrived intact!
Yikes. This started seeming like a potentially never-ending cycle. I was made whole as the customer, but think about the time and hassle involved… and the added cost to Zazzle as a business. it was nothing catastrophic, but it was annoying.
I had been corresponding with my friend Karyn Ross, partly because I was thanking her for the inspiration to put some helpful mantras on one side of the mugs (something I planned to do for future orders).
These broken-mug incidents provided an opportunity for me to practice being kind to Zazzle… because nobody is perfect. They made mistakes… maybe I made a mistake in choosing them as a vendor.
But were they learning from them? Seemingly not!
I remember the packaging was different each time, combining bubble wrap and other padding. In both cases, it seemed more haphazard than engineered. Maybe Zazzle was trying to iterate their way to success (as I discuss in my book The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation) but wasn't quite figuring it out.
Karyn's Upcoming Webinar
By the way, I was reminded to finish and publish this post because I spent time with Karyn yesterday to plan for her upcoming webinar on Kindness and Lean leadership… and we recorded a quick preview about it:
An Experiment with Kintsugi
Karyn suggested that I explore and experiment with the Japanese art of “kintsugi,” or “the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery by mending the areas of breakage with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum.”
Of course, Amazon had a do-it-yourself kintsugi kit, which I ordered.
I did my best to follow the instructions. I'm better with electronics and tech than I am with arts and crafts. But I figured that any mistakes would just add a layer of imperfection.
I had to find the pieces for each broken handle, and it seemed I could create four repaired mugs. Because the epoxy was sticky, it was a little hard to work with. I managed to get the pieces glued together, with gold in the seams… and some “overspray” (which is, I think, what you'd call it when painting).
You can also see the instructions and explanation from the kit here, with some of my glue mess:
I was trying to focus on having some joy instead of being a perfectionist about my first attempt at kintsugi. I could practice being kind to myself.
Here is the final result — four intact mugs! Also shown is one of Karyn's “Love and Kindness Project Foundation” sheets with two heart pins attached.
I decided to ship one of these mugs to Karyn as a gift. I used bubble wrap and did my best to protect the mug in a box. Being the only mug in the box, there was nothing else to bang against it.
But guess what… the mug handle broke again in transit to Karyn! That was now MY packaging mistake.
And here is a photo that Karyn sent me with her use of the broken mug:
The other kintsugi mugs have turned out to be pretty durable. I'm drinking coffee from one now as I write this in May 2023.
Maybe I shouldn't be running these through the dishwasher, but that hasn't caused a problem… yet. My expectation that the handle will hold up could turn out to be a mistake. I worry that the epoxy will weaken and that, one day, a mug of hot coffee will crash to the floor.
So back to Karyn's broken-again mug… in her typically kind and positive way, she said,
“It's OK, it's perfect as a pen and pencil holder!”
It's displayed in Karyn's office with a custom eraser that I also got through Zazzle. Thanks to Karyn for the photos!
Choosing a New Vendor
After those experiences with Zazzle, I started ordering mugs from a different vendor, Vistaprint. They have a perfect track record so far, though a few orders. It would have been a mistake to continue ordering over and over from Zazzle, I'm sorry to say. But I'll still use them for other products.
The Vistaprint mug packaging is very well-engineered, with each mug in a cardboard cover. I know it's a lot of packaging, but at least it's all recyclable. I hope it's not a mistake to think that the recycling efforts make a difference!
My Design Mistake
This is unrelated to the breakage… but earlier in 2023, I decided to further customize the mugs to give as thank-you gifts for podcast guests.
As I shared on LinkedIn… my confused combination of “thanks” and “thank you” didn't turn out well:
As the mug says, I can be kind to myself. I'm human. I make mistakes. I try my best to learn from them…
With the mug… or even my book… I can just laugh off any mistake along the lines of, “I was just illustrating the point” or “I was just testing you”??
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Check out my latest book, The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation: