5 Step Technique for Producing Ideas

Are you in need an idea? Coming up with ideas in any field is sometimes hard.


In business and in brand strategy, great ideas are always needed - so I’m always on the hunt as to how to get them. New approaches to position, innovation or business design. New methods and strategies. Big ideas or purpose statements in which to ladder a plan of action. All of this requires ideas.

What if there was a formula to help us understand how ideas form in the human mind? What if there was a “process” for generating great ideas? Enter James Webb Young and a book he wrote way back in 1965 - which I’ve just finished reading. Young was an advertising man (he died in 1973) - and a very successful one at that, having been the First Chairman of The Advertising Council and inducted into the American Advertising Federation Hall of Fame. Young received many accolades including the Advertising Man of the Year Award in 1946. His many years in the field, generating ad ideas on a daily basis, helped him formulate a process for idea generation. He set out this process in a short book: "A Technique for Producing Ideas”. And it’s a corker. The book is an answer to the question: “How do you get ideas?”.


James Webb Young (1886-1973)

This short book has helped hundreds of folk to generate new ideas across different fields and industries. It's often cited. I recently got my hands on a copy and wanted to document the highlights for you, my audience - but it's well worth buying the book and reading it for yourself. Grab a copy here » So - what's this amazing process then? Well here’s the high level: The premise of Young’s process is that great ideas are simply combining existing elements into new combinations. He believed that the way an idea in formed in the mind based on the search for relationships between seemingly unrelated facts. These, when placed in a new combination and given a new narrative produce the new idea. Young believed that one could train their mind to be better at finding these connections and thus, be more creative. Here’s how he proposes all this is done:

Step 1. Gather The Materials Gather information and facts around the key areas to which you are looking for a new idea. This is a workman-like task. Young suggests there are two types of information: - Specific materials - and for advertising Young suggests this should be around the product you are going to sell and the people you are hoping will buy it - General materials - here Young means wider life experiences Gather this information, write it down. Train your mind to seek it out, observe it and store it. Step 2. Mentally Digest This step happens entirely inside the mind. Like a jigsaw puzzle, you bring elements of the information gathered in step one and peice them together, looking for relationships, connections and new combinations. For example taking 2-3 facts and seeing how they fit together. When partial ideas come which could work, Young suggests you write them down. It is in this step though that, after a while, the mind becomes exhausted but Young encourages us to not give up - because the magic happens in Step 3. Step 3. Incubate In this step, according to Young, you have to “turn the problem over to your unconscious mind and let it work while you sleep”. He suggests you try not to think about coming up with an idea at all and allow your mind to be distracted by what it enjoys. Step 4. Birth Young suggests that if you have gone through Steps 1-3 properly then, out of nowhere “the Idea will appear”! It will be born in an instance. When you don't expect it. After straining of the idea and then going through a period of mental relaxation it’s as if, somehow, the dust settles and the mind produces the connections itself. There’s a kind of “Eureka” moment. Step 5. Refine Young calls this the “cold grey dawn of the morning after”. The new idea will need working to refine it so it works in the cold light of a new day. The detail of the idea will need shaping. The idea will need to be formed by the views of others. Critiqued. Judged. Young suggests this is a good thing. That others might point out things you may have overlooked. This stage is where the idea is shaped and developed until is it practically useful. So there we are. A step-by-step process for producing new ideas. It’s simple. It’s powerful and, as I can personally testify, it works. Young, it seems to me, has nailed this. I can see why his little book is often sighted. So. Are you in need new ideas? I hope you enjoy following this process and getting them.


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