A Technique for Producing Ideas – James Webb Young

Early cartographers who knew little about what was between two known land masses created elaborate dragons and monsters to fill that void on the globe.

I’ve found a similar process in advertising whereby an agency draws up a formal ‘creative process’ to help rationalise to clients what happens between the brief and the idea to justify charging money. It became fashionable to name your creative process, some agencies even trade marking theirs.

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Like any creative person though, you know it isn’t as clear cut as that. There IS an intangible bit in producing an idea between a brief and finishing with an idea. However interesting an agency makes this process sound, you know you’ll be the one who has to be comfortable with talking those steps into the ‘intangible gap’.

It’s that very bit where creative people do their work. The process of discovering what those dragons are between the brief and the idea.

James Webb Young first put his process down in 1965, arguably a process which was probably well understood by the social sciences of the time, but laid out in a succinct, easy series of steps that most creative people would grasp.

The first of the five suggested phases is the gathering of raw materials – both for the immediate problem but also general materials to broaden your understanding of everything. I couldn’t agree more with the second part. Many times has my obsession with books, magazines and information about very unrelated material led me to find relationships between things that have yielded an idea I wouldn’t have found otherwise. James suggests collecting and indexing your ideas on cards, a good discipline which is probably better done these days with a range of digital tools such as Evernote.

The second stage is digesting all the research. Finding the relationships and writing down the partial ideas you have until you lose you way and have no clear insight.

This makes way for the third stage where you do nothing. Well, you do something else that interests you and let your subconscious do it’s thing.

Stage four is the birth of the idea. I struggle with the thought of the eureka moment as described, “Out of nowhere the Idea will appear”. I’ve had a couple so can see what James means, but I think leaving your brain to do it’s thing and hope your eureka moment comes before the deadline might be pushing it somewhat. But I do definitely agree that giving your head some space after doing a lot thinking leads to fresh insights when you return.

Stage five is about looking at the idea in context and making it work.

I imagine that most creative people would see it as an expression of some of the steps they go through more than a new set of tools they can use, but it’s worth the short read of around twenty minutes to remind yourself of the practical things you can do to help you get your mind in the right state to generate ideas.

Title | A Technique for Producing Ideas.
Author | James Webb Young
Publisher | McGraw-Hill
Publish Date | 2003 this edition (Originally published in 1965)
ISBN | 0-07-141094-5

Reviewer | Steven Bennett-Day

Buy from Amazon: A Technique for Producing Ideas (McGraw-Hill Advertising Classic)

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