A Technique for Producing Ideas

2 min readJul 17, 2018

Where do good ideas come from? Is there a process you can easily follow to have more of them?

Ideas often present themselves in our minds at the most unexpected times.

This can make them seem mysterious and elusive.

But ideas aren’t as magical as they sometimes appear to be.

In fact, they adhere to two simple principles:

1) An idea is nothing more nor less than a new combination of old elements.

2) The ability to make new combinations is heightened by an ability to see relationships.

These observations were made in a book called ‘A Technique for Producing Ideas’ way back in 1939.

Written by James Webb-Young, it is considered to be one of the most enduring advertising books of all time.

In it, the author shares a five-step process for coming up with ideas:

1) Gather raw material

Both specific and general — good creative people get excited about lots of subjects and browse extensively!

Gathering of general materials is important because this is where the previously stated principle comes in — namely, that an idea is nothing more nor less than a new combination of elements. In advertising, an idea results from a new combination of specific knowledge about products and people with general knowledge about life and events.

2) Digest the material

Let the different elements play and interact with one another in your mind. Try different combinations to see what fits best.

3) Unconscious processing

Forget about it! Go and do something completely different. Turn the problem over to your unconscious mind and let it work whilst you sleep.

4) The A-Ha moment

After you have stopped thinking about it your ideas will suddenly appear! This is the result of giving yourself a period of rest and relaxation from the search.

5) Your idea meets reality

The moment of truth has arrived. Get your idea out there!

As Young himself wrote, ‘Submit it to the criticisms of the judicious. When you do, a surprising thing will happen. You will find that a good idea has, as it were, self-expanding qualities. It stimulates those who see it to add to it. Thus possibilities in it which you have overlooked will come to light.’

In summary, to give yourself the best possible chance of coming up with good ideas, all you need to do is be constantly preoccupied with the possibilities of new combinations.

Be curious about everything. The wider you cast your net the better!




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