A Technique for Producing Ideas

James Webb Young’s A Technique for Producing Ideas is a classic writing on, well, formulating new ideas.  Young spent his career in the advertising industry and writes this book in reference to that, but it’s easy to see that the simple concepts in the book can be applied anytime there is a need for a creative, useful idea. 

The Distillation:

The combination of old elements + the ability to see relationships between these elements and concepts (sometimes seeming disparate) = the formation of new novel ideas. 

This is so true for a lot of innovation we see today and can be especially seen in the digital realm.  Take the concept of the API for instance which allows an application or program to incorporate functionality of another app to assist or enrich the experience of the new creation.

The Process:

As one is tasked with creating a new idea, there are 5 phases to proceed through linearly en route to creating that idea:

1.     Research: The word may have unexciting connotations, but Young tells us that it is important to gather as much information as possible about the problem/area you are creating an idea for.  

2.     Mental Digestion: Take the concepts you researched and roll them around in your mind.  Find relationships and varying was off looking at these pieces of information.

3.     Drop it: Take some time to get your mind completely off of the subject.  Turn the problem over to the subconscious mind.

4.     Immaculate Conception:  Boom!  An idea has come to you as you stare out the subway door windows (or whatever).  How many times has this happened to you?

5.     Retool:  After the excitement of coming up with something has passed, view the idea in the light of the world where it will be used.  Make adjustments. 

I’m keeping these concepts in mind when working with creative teams or when I’m a part of a team tasked to produce a creative idea or solve a problem for, say, a client.   These are pretty high-level concepts and I feel they can complement other more granular and rigorous methods (such as the science of design thinking).