Vuja De: gaining new insights into old problems

Reflection Paper

The three most important ideas in Entrepreneurial Leadership and Originals are: 1) The perspective one has is critical to entrepreneurship and innovation; 2) With this perspective or skillset, it is important to take measured risks; and 3) The sustainability of a novel idea is crucial to the long-term impact of an entrepreneur.[1]

The first idea resonates deeply with me. In the past, there was always a pressure to conform with norms, yet it never felt natural. This applied to familial roles, pursuits in life (i.e. in education and work), and broader societal patterns, including religious and non-religious spheres. While Goossen, Stevens, and Grant emphasize the point that “the entrepreneurial approach to work and life can be developed, enhanced and improved”[2] and that “originals are far more ordinary than we realize,”[3] there is a consistent underlying aspect of vuja de.[4] It has been this vuja de perspective that has fueled me to challenge traditions in all regards, from simple fashion statements to cultural heritage, such as filial piety.[5] While there has been this pattern of originality in my personal or private life, this spirit has yet to be reflected in a public sphere.

I believe most of the attention and literature on entrepreneurship is centered around business and economy particularly because of the ease of measurability of money, as Jim Rohn states.[6] However, I wonder how non-business and non-economic institutions and individuals can benefit from having this vuja de mentality and skill. I wonder how the church and its various aspects such as community groups, Sunday gatherings, perhaps even doctrine, can benefit from vuja de, not just for the sake of challenging norms, but to have a deeper understanding of God. While I no longer believe that being an original or entrepreneur ought to be confined to economic spheres, I do believe that one must display vuja de or adopt the perspective and exercise the skill to be considered one.

Having recognized that I inherently have this perspective, I can now be free to utilize it not only in a personal and private manner, but perhaps take measured risks to disrupt more of the familiar for good. As mentioned earlier, some immediate aspects concern modes of operation the Western church has adopted, as well as making decisions on how to raise a family in this contemporary age. However, I am already very familiar that “[choosing] to challenge the status quo is an uphill battle, and there are bound to be failures, barriers, and setbacks along the way.”[7]

The third major idea regarding sustainability deeply challenged my former understanding on this topic, which mainly revolved around operating individualistically. It is not sufficient to be an original with a novel idea—the importance of sustainability and long-lasting effects is just as, if not more, significant. Grant discusses developing sustainability regarding how an individual continues to foster originality as we age, by adopting what he defines as the experimental approach contrary to the conceptual.[8] Goossen and Stevens provide principles on how an entrepreneurial leader practices, sustains, and makes a difference. They pose a challenge from an institutional level, particularly critiquing Christian institutions. Unfortunately, many are not characterized as being innovative, creative, and forward-thinking, thus undermining their long-term sustainability.[9],[10] This aspect came to life as Paul Stevens shared his journey with the Institute of Marketplace Transformation (IMT). While Stevens’ vision and fresh perspective on faith and work provides much value to the Christian community, without critically preparing for his transition and the focus of IMT, this originality may have become obsolete within his circle of influence.

While reading these books, they stirred some theological reflections as well. Grant discusses the difference of the logic of appropriateness verse the logic of consequence, which entails one’s character verse behavior.[11] The logic of appropriateness considers the character of a person, while the logic of consequence may separate behavior from character—one may drive home drunk but still think he or she is not a drunkard. This is interesting when considering the concept of sin and sinner. Often times I have heard of separating the sin from the individual, however this would fall under the logic of consequence, leading one to focus on their behavior. However, if the narrative shifted to focus and emphasize one’s character as a Christian (i.e. a child of God), perhaps this will help Christians shift from a mentality of “asking whether this behavior will achieve the results they want,” and rather “they take action because it is the right thing to do.”[12]

Another very interesting aspect of vuja de is in the “kill the company” exercise. “When deliberating about innovation opportunities, the leaders weren’t inclined to take risks,” says Grant. “When they considered how their competitors could put them out of business, they realized that it was a risk not to innovate. The urgency of innovation was apparent.”[13] I wonder how much a “nothing will prevail against the church”[14] mentality prevents the current models of the church as an institution, particularly in the West, from innovating. While I believe nothing will prevail against the people of God as the body of Christ, I question the sustainability of current church models in a rapidly changing world with an increasing pace of change.[15]

While there is much to reflect on the ever-changing field of entrepreneurship and much more critical thinking is needed, I believe it is more important to bear in mind the overarching context that “[the] ultimate goal for humankind in the Bible is righteousness—right relations with God, neighbor, and creation.”[16]

[1] I will be using the term entrepreneur in a broader sense, not limited to an institutional vocation.

[2] Richard Goossen and Paul Stevens, Entrepreneurial Leadership: Finding Your Calling, Making a Difference (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Press, 2013), 18, footnote.

[3] Adam Grant, Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World (New York, NY: Viking, 2016), 16.

[4] Vuja de is the opposite of déjà vu, i.e. approaching something familiar, with a fresh perspective that enables one to gain new insights into old problems (cf. Grant, 7).

[5] Filial piety is a very strong virtue in Asian cultures.

[6] From Jim Rohn, Best Life Ever.

[7] Grant, 212.

[8] Grant, 109.

[9] Goossen and Stevens, 168, 172.

[10] While Grant discusses this from a business perspective, he shares a similar principle: “Once a market becomes dynamic, big companies with strong cultures are too insular: They have a harder time recognizing the need for change, and they’re more likely to resist the insights of those who think differently. As a result, they don’t learn and adapt, and don’t have better or more reliable financial results than their competitors.” (183) This may further explain why both businesses and churches “fail” within an average of seven years.

[11] Grant, 170-1.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Grant, 234.

[14] Cf. Matt 16:18.

[15] “… intuitions are only trustworthy when people build up experience making judgments in a predictable environment… There’s a stable, robust relationship between the patterns you’ve seen before and what you encounter today… In a rapidly changing world, the lessons of experience can easily point us in the wrong direction. And because the pace of change is accelerating, our environments are becoming ever more unpredictable. This makes intuitions less reliable as a source of insight about new ideas and places a growing premium on analysis.” (Grant, 53-4)

[16] Goossen, 102-3.