Anthropologists in Pursuit of 'Vuja De'

Everybody has heard of deja vu, right? It's the distinct feeling you've been here before. When you go out to do field work in Anthropologist mode, you should aspire to the opposite: a state of mind my friend Bob Sutton at Stanford calls "vuja de." Vuja de happens when you enter a situation you've been in a thousand times before, but with the sense of being there for the first time.

As French novelist Marcel Proust said, "The real act of discovery consists not in finding new lands but in seeing with new eyes." So if you want to find untapped innovation opportunities, watch the world around you with "fresh eyes." Go for a sense of vuja de, and then ask yourself why things are the way they are. Why do people wear a watch when their cellphone keeps perfect time? Why don't movie theaters sell soundtracks as you exit the film? Why do we all have answering machines to record messages from telephone callers, but nothing to record a message from someone who stops by our home or office? Why don't business guys wear hats in the winter, even when it's below freezing?

Once you start asking the right vuja de questions, you might find that the answers can lead to big opportunities for your business.

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12 Comments

  • sue

    I have had both de vaju and vujade but most often working in corporate retail i have experienced da ja mu that is same bull/s different bull. whoa.. been there ?

  • avi

    THe official philosophical answer is "existence is identity". (Objctivist second zxioms, for the mavens.)
    That is, everything that exists also has an idetity that man has to discover, conceptualize and utilize. As discovery is a continuous process, new ways to utilize every this that is outthere are endless.

  • Sallie Goetsch (rhymes with "s

    "Vuja de" is actually particularly easy to achieve when one has certain kinds of neurological damage. As a result of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, I have experienced what my therapist called (with better French than the anthropoligists) "jamais vu," which means "never seen." This can be inconvenient when it is not under one's conscious control, and therefore familiar streets look unfamiliar or one says "Oh, look at that! I'll take a picture of it" and later discovers an identical photo already in the album.

    Perhaps I should have been an anthropologist.

  • Collins Hemingway

    The reason people don't carry umbrellas in the NW is precisely because it rains so much. When you have to carry an umbrella day after day, you lose it, usually sooner than later. So rather than lug around a soon-to-be-lost item, people wear jackets with hoods. They flip them up when it rains and leave them down the few seconds a year when it doesn't rain.

    Quite an innovation--an attached, soft-top, flip-top umbrella!

  • Angus Loten

    Too bad Carlin doesn't speak French, or Quebecois. In Montreal it's called jamais vu (never seen); that recurring feeling in recent years whenever the Habs, after a lousy season, pick up their game near the playoffs, we forget ourselves and are believers again. And then they're eliminated. It's like clockwork, yet each time their doomed charge is treated by fans and media alike as unprecedented.

  • Brad Lauster

    My father has been using "vuja de" for at least 10 years to describe "the funny feeling that this shit has never happened before." It's likely he first heard it from Carlin.

    It still cracks me up every time I hear it. Thanks for the memory.

  • Jason Bates

    mmm.... sounds like a different phrasing of the classic "beginners mind" meme from Zen Buddhism. ("Vuja De" is a funnier term though)

    "Beginner's mind is Zen practice in action. It is the mind that is innocent of preconceptions and expectations, judgements and prejudices. Beginner's mind is just present to explore and observe and see "things as-it-is." I think of beginner's mind as the mind that faces life like a small child, full of curiosity and wonder and amazement. "I wonder what this is? I wonder what that is? I wonder what this means?" Without approaching things with a fixed point of view or a prior judgement, just asking "what is it?"" - from this link

    very "Vuja de"... unpolluted by past experience.

    Regards,

    Jason Bates
    www.canoworms.info blog

  • Tom Kelley

    Rick Watts is probably right about George Carlin coining "Vuja De." Professor Bob Sutton has been using the term for years, and told me recently he'd heard that George Carlin came up with it first. I explain that dual source when using the term in my Ten Faces book, but took a shortcut in my blog post, crediting it to Sutton who introduced me to the term and his interpretation of it. Thanks for the clarification from Rick.

  • Rick Watts

    I think George Carlin coined "Vuja De" first. He explains it very well in one of his early comedy routines.

    It's all about the obvious right in front of our eyes. When someone invents a simple little something for the benefit of mankind, almost everyone either simultaneously thinks, "why didn't I think of that?" or "I was just thinking of that."

  • Javier

    The relevant subject is to make questions itself. The questions are a kind of rebel issue, the answers a kind of adaptation way. Every time we look at somethig with rebel eyes we are in the doors of an innovative form of adaptation. Culture, as Roger Fulton says with the hats, is the basic framework for the conventional thinking in the way that doesn't allow us to ask why or why not. Roles, as basic culture units doesn't allow us to wear a hat even when skin cancer threat us and we now it. Culture then, isn't necesary? No, it is. But it may not be a way to cover our daily needs by answering all our potential questions. Unfreezing is the basis of a high learning. And it needs questions. Innovation then is a kind of learning. Every little step we take for learning is a click of an eye. What we do when we see an impresive thing ? We close our eyes and then open it again. Then we accept what we see. This metaphor seems quite interesting. Let's still with the open eyes, let's look at everything is happening and close the eyes,and open it again to look as the child does, like discovering, discovering the things again.

    Just cliking the eyes

    Javier

  • roger fulton

    The answer to that question is simple, in my opinion. It's called: ego. Why don't they wear hats in Arizona, the land of skin cancer? Cowboys wore them down here 120 years ago? They didn't wear them b/cuz they were macho, it kept them cooler. Try wearing them now, some goof will cat-call you, "macho."
    Try living in the Pacific Northwest, like the misty, muscular city of Portland, Oregon where it rains like hell every four and one half seconds.
    Take an umbrella like any good sensible person should and the locals will laugh their heads off at you. RIDICULE you in public, actually. "Real MEN" don't use umbrellas up here, fella. That's what the PACNW is all about - braving the weather.
    Its an unbred environmental stupidity. You can braintrust all the great ideas you want, but unless you have the marketing smarts to SELL the idea with a slick Mad-Ave presentation, it won't sell at street level.
    Different eyes? Sure, next time, turn the chess board a quarter turn to the left or right before your next Leizein Defence move.

    Roger Fulton
    Yuma, Az\
    http://spaces.msn.com/members/...