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A Technique for Producing Ideas, by James Webb Young

technique-for-producing-ideasWritten in 1939 by an accomplished ad-man of the early 20th century, A Technique for Producing Ideas survives the test of time because it taps into insights we know intuitively but find difficult to articulate, understand, and therefore, to fully leverage to our advantage.

We’re all in search of ideas, of new and innovative breakthroughs for the myriad of challenges before us. An in that search, we’ve experienced the process that Young describes, which gives weight to the simple but profound structure he outlines.

Granted, this is a thin book. Perhaps a “Who Moved My Cheese” of it’s day. But a good idea doesn’t need to be wordy to be insightful and helpful.

In the book, Young outlines two basic principles for how ideas are formed and a key to their formation. First, that ideas are new combinations of old elements. Second, that the ability to make new combinations is enhanced by the ability to see relationships (as he so eloquently states, “To some minds each fact is a separate bit of knowledge. To others it is a link in a chain of knowledge…It is not so much a fact as it is an illustration of a general law applying to a whole series of facts.”).

Based on these principles, the method consists of five distinct steps. 1) A gathering of raw materials. 2) A working over of these materials in your mind. 3) An incubation stage left to the subconscious. 4) The actual birth of the idea (the “Eureka!” moment). 5) The final shaping and development of the idea to practical usefulness.

Young provides a great framework for understanding the idea generation process. And once you understand it, you can use it to help invigorate your idea generation process. Most of us give too little time and energy to the earliest steps, for example. The steps can be hard and boring and tedious, but they provide the raw materials essential to the process. Ramping up efforts to gather raw materials and work them over will lead to more “Eureka!” moments, Young promises.

This quick read is well worth a bit of your time. Following its guidance could significantly increase your capabilities in one of the most valuable areas of work – generating ideas and putting them into the world.