We’ve all experienced déjà vu, looking at an unfamiliar situation and feeling like we’ve seen it before. It turns out the most successful and creative people flip this around and consciously practice “vu déjà”–looking at a familiar situation as if you’ve never seen it before.
Our brains are hardwired to play a devious trick. We are masters at pattern recognition, so our brains quickly scan our memory banks when stimulated and identify how we handled a situation before. The problem is that our first instinct is to quickly reach a previous conclusion rather than re-examine a situation with a fresh perspective. This is great for some things (walking, using a fork, language) since we don’t need to re-learn those skills each time they’re needed. However, this brain trap can be deadly when we fail to advance our thinking.
The way you solved a customer issue or launched a product in the past may have worked great, but the world isn’t standing still. Quite the opposite–every night when we go to bed and wake up the next day, things have changed. Those who get stuck in the past and lean on the golden ways of a time gone by are playing Russian roulette with their future.
Even when something is still working, it’s necessary to look at the situation with fresh eyes. When you look at challenges from an unbiased perspective, it breaks you out of the rut and allows your creativity to shine.
To get started with Vu Déjà, here are some fun techniques:
• Pretend this is your first day on the job. What do you notice that you currently breeze by?
• When dealing with an issue, imagine you have a different profession. If you’re a chemical engineer, ask yourself how an artist may solve your problem. If you are a graphic designer, how would an astronaut think about your situation?
• Pretend you are a different person altogether. Instead of brainstorming as you, try pretending you are Steve Jobs, Rush Limbaugh, or Bono. Pick your favorite movie star, sports hero, business leader, politician or author and take on their persona.
• Imagine you are a time traveler and look at a challenge from the perspective of 100 years in the future. Or 200 years in the past.
Each of these exercises will help you shake things up and get away from existing patterns. A fresh perspective on team meetings, employee issues, product development, efficiency gains, hiring practices, marketing strategies, or even financial metrics can help you bust through the mud and find new, elegant solutions.