A Technique for Producing Ideas by James Webb Young

Well, this is embarrassing.

I finally got round to reading ‘A Technique for Producing Ideas’ by James Webb Young, first published in 1965.

It’s been on my ‘to read’ list for over five years. I read it within 30 minutes. It’s the best book on creativity I’ve ever read. 

Note to self – more reading, less Twitter. 

It’s barely worth reading the summary. You’d be better off just buying the book and reading it in all it’s (short) glory. But if you want the headlines:

  • Pareto divided the world into two types of people. The speculators – ‘constantly preoccupied with the possibility of new combinations’ – and the rentiers – ‘routine, steady-going, unimaginative, conserving people’.

  • To train the mind to think creatively requires Principles then Method 
    • The main principles reinforce that ‘an idea is nothing more nor less than a new combination of old elements’. Therefore what makes a creative person is ‘the ability to make combinations and to see relationships

The method has five steps:

  • Step one: Gather raw materials
    • An idea is a new combination of specific knowledge about people and products with a general knowledge about life and events’
    • On specific knowledge: Most of us stop too soon in the process of getting an intimate knowledge of people. If the surface differences are not striking, we assume that there are no differences. 
    • On general knowledge: ‘Every really good creative person I know has two characteristics. First, there is no subject matter in which they could not get interested in. Second, they are an extensive browser in all sorts of fields of information’.

  • Step two: Work over the materials in your mind
    • Write down all the items of information as you discover them, forcing your mind to engage with the material, preparing it to form an idea.

  • Step three: Incubate – and do something else
    • When you reach the third stage of production, drop the problem completely and turn to whatever stimulates your imagination and emotions. Music, movies, reading or running.

  • Step four: The idea appears (Eureka! Moment)

  • Step five – Shape and develop into something of practical usefulness
    • ‘Here is where many good ideas are lost. The inventor is often not patient enough or practical enough, or holds the idea too close to their chest rather than submitting it to criticism. When you do, it stimulates those who see it and add to it.’

Thanks for reading this article, I really hope you enjoyed it. You can subscribe to my monthly update below, and find me in tweet form @johnjsills, in picture form on Instagram @CX_Stories, or in work mode at The Foundation

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