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.