How to Get Ideas
What comes to mind when you hear that someone is “creative”?
Maybe you picture a problem-solver, someone who sees what’s possible where others see obstacles.
Or maybe you picture an eccentric, someone who lives life unfettered by fashion, or the opinions of others. .
Or maybe you picture a craftsman, someone who makes stuff, and makes them well.
No matter what the word means to you, there is one ingredient that creativity needs.
The problem-solver has an idea for a solution, and proceeds to execute it, step by careful step.
The eccentric leaps from one contrarian idea to another, living life as quickly as their thinking allows. .
The craftsman works away in his shop, layering one idea on top of another, getting closer and closer to the finished product.
Ideas are the currency of the future. Writers and thinkers have touted their value extensively. We cannot escape them, and with the really striking ones, cannot afford to ignore them.
So, how do we produce ideas?
In 1965, advertising executive James Webb Young wrote a short book called A Technique for Producing Ideas. It describes, in clear and precise prose, a methodology for idea generation. Originally written for copywriters and advertisers, it has since become a key text for creatives from all fields.
There are five steps to his technique:
#1 - Gathering Raw Material
#2 - Mastication
#3 - Take a Break
#4 - The Idea Comes
#5 - Submit the Idea to the World
While each step is worth exploring on its own, others have done it in some detail. You can read about them here.
A Note About Technique
What is interesting is Young’s decision to call his methodology a technique.
A technique implies that there is a right and a wrong way of doing something, which goes what we think being creative means.
It also implies that producing ideas, and being creative, is something that can be taught, a skill that anyone could acquire. .
It has become fashion today to tell our children that there is no right or wrong way to do things, that there are merely “different approaches” they should try.
We hope that such encouragement will lead them to experiment, to find their passion and get good at it.
While this seems like the correct thing to do (and think, and say), is it actually correct?
In future posts, we will explore this question in greater depth. Let us conclude by pointing to the enduring popularity of Young’s slim volume, which shows us that his method works, and maybe that’s what matters.
So give it a try and tell us what you come up with.
Later this week, we will look at what being creative feels like.