seeing with fresh eyes

Last week I attended “Gain” in NYC, the business and design conference sponsored by the AIGA. Tom Kelley, general manager of IDEO, a global design consultancy, served masterfully as moderator of the event. Kelley introduced a speaker commenting on the idea of how we stop seeing things; how we often overlook the obvious. We go though life screening out things we see as distractions to our immediate objective.

The art of anthropology teaches that observation is the key to understanding and an important part of innovation and design. Simple observation may not be enough, however.

Marcel Proust, the celebrated French novelist said “the real act of discovery consists not in finding new lands, but in seeing with new eyes.” Kelley names this idea by turning around the more familiar word and calling it “Vuja de”, meaning, “the sense of seeing something for the first time, even if you have actually witnessed it many times before.” When you go out to observe in anthropologistmode, you should aspire to Vuja de, the opposite of Deja vu.

As noted in the Fast Company magazine blog, “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 cell phone 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?”