Off the Shelf: Vuja De

Reading Adam Grant’s Originals yesterday, I came across the phrase “vuja de.” As Grant writes, “Déjà vu occurs when we encounter something new, but it feels as if we’ve seen it before. Vuja de is the reverse—we face something familiar, but we see it with a fresh perspective that enables us to gain new insights into old problems.”

In the endnotes, Grant cites Bob Sutton’s Weird Ideas That Work, in which Sutton defines “the vuja de mentality” as “the ability to keep shifting opinion and perception. It means shifting our focus from objects or patterns in the foreground to those in the background. … It means thinking of things that are usually assumed to be negative as positive, and vice versa. It can means reversing assumptions about cause and effect, or what matters most versus least. It means not traveling through life on automatic pilot.”

This is all quite relevant to speaking. As I note several times in The Science of Speaking, it’s often the case that your audience has never considered your topic before. In this case, it’s your job to both interest and inform them. But it’s also true that the reverse is often the case—that your audience has considered your topic many times before. In this case, it’s still your job to interest and inform them. And you can do so by creating a sense of vuja de.

Rather than approaching the same old topic in the same old way, see how you can approach it in a new and innovative way. When you find a new angle from which to present an old topic, your audience will be much more likely to be interested (and informed).

But how can you find a new way to present it? For a comprehensive list of suggestions, I recommend that you read Originals, which presents many great ways for seeing things creatively. But for one easy way, try using an analogy. By mashing up an old topic and a new context, you can often unlock innovative insights and unleash the power of vuja de.

Note: Over the years, many other definitions have been proposed for this phrase. For example, comedian George Carlin defined vuja de as “the distinct sense that, somehow, something that just happened has never happened before.” And in The Vujà Dè Moment, Simon T. Bailey defines it by saying “you’ve never seen it, but you intend to flip the status quo and create it.”

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