“A Technique for Producing Ideas” is a 64-page booklet written by the advertising executive James Webb Young in 1965. The unassuming book has stood the test of time by concisely outlining Young’s simple, yet effective method for generating ideas.
Young’s 5 Steps for Producing Good Ideas
1. Gather Information
Young discusses two types of information that must be collected: specific and general. Specific information relates to the particular problem you are trying to solve. So if you are new hair salon trying to come up with good ideas, or a brand, this means studying your competition. Interviewing potential customers and staying on top of the latest trends in industry blogs.
General information, on the other hand, requires a continuous browsing of disparate topics.
When talking about the creative person, Young says “there is no subject under the sun in which he could not become easily interested”. For the hair salon owner, this means reading the headlines about Nascar in the Chronicle sports section, visiting the Rothko Chapel and taking the Metro bus to work when you normally drive. You never know when this information will come in handy.
2. Chew On It
Young believed an idea is nothing but a “new combination of old elements.” With this in mind, he suggests taking all of the information gathered and trying to piece it together like a puzzle. Brainstorm. Think up wild questions and write down the craziest ideas that come to mind. If my hair salon were a car, what car would it be? How would Rothko paint my logo? Would the color scheme of the bus drivers hat work for my hair salon? Push this as long as you can until you run out of steam.
3. Leave It
After you’ve chewed on the information until you’ve had enough, forget about it.
Once you’ve completed the first three steps, while you are running around Memorial Park or cooking some pasta at home, it will hit you. As Henry Ford said, “You only have to know what you want, then forget it, and go about your business. Suddenly, the idea will come through.” This is a great example of good ideas.
5. Get Feedback
Young warns against keeping your idea to yourself. Ask for the opinions of those you respect. With the critique of others, your idea will take on a new life and become further refined.
So that’s Young’s process in a nutshell. Grab a copy and let us know how it helps. Next comes the fun part: execution. Unfortunately, Young did not leave us with what would certainly be the Holy Grail of business: “A Technique for Executing an Idea.”
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