Creative Thinking With...

A review of:

'A Technique For
Producing Ideas'

A Step-By-Step Technique For Sparking Creativity
In Advertising or Any Field

by James Webb Young

A Technique For Producing Ideas by James Webb Young'A Technique For Producing Ideas' by James Webb Young is a classic little book on creative thinking. I got my copy a couple of weeks ago and have just sat down and read right through it. Here is my review:

At only 48 pages long, 'A Technique For Producing Ideas' is a slim volume. However it is written with the clarity of a skilled advertising man. James Webb Young first published this book in the 1940s and it is now reprinted as a McGraw Hill Advertising Classic. The back cover subtitle reveals it to be 'A Step-By-Step Technique For Sparking Creativity In Advertising or Any Field.' Note the emphasis on ANY field.

The version I read has two forewords, a modern one (I suspect) by Keith Reinhard, Chairman of DDB Worldwide, and an older one by William Bernbach, former Chairman and CEO of Doyle Dane Bernbach, Inc. both enthusing about the book and it's author James Webb Young (as you would expect).

There then follows a prefatory note written by the author in 1960 reflecting on the success of the book and communications from readers.

A Technique For Producing Ideas  -- back coverThe main body of 'A Technique For Producing Ideas' comprises 10 chapters as follows:

1. How It Started -- here James Webb Young explains what prompted him to look for 'A Technique For Producing Ideas.'

2. The Formula of Experience -- in chapter 2, the author reveals how he came to realise and identify the operative technique the mind uses to generate ideas, which he says, can be as effective and efficient as an assembly line.

3. The Pareto Theory -- in this chapter of 'A Technique For Producing Ideas', Young refers to the Italian sociologist Pareto's (yeah, the 80/20 guy) belief that the world was made up of two kinds of people, the creatives and the squares. The creative types (called speculators by Pareto) are defined by a constant interest in the 'possibilities of new combinations.' The other type, rentiers, are described as conservative, steady, habitual people. Pareto believes that the creatives manipulate the squares.

4. Training the Mind -- this part of 'A Technique For Producing Ideas' briefly examines the importance of training the mind in the Method and Principles of the art of producing ideas.

5. Combining Old Elements -- here James Webb Young states that 'an idea is nothing more nor less than a new combination of old elements.' The author then emphasises that this is the most important principle in 'A Technique For Producing Ideas'. He then reveals the second most important principle which allows one to make new combinations of old elements - and that is the ability to see relationships between disparate things. Young closes chapter 5 by recommending a study of the social sciences as a training for seeing relationships and thus generating ideas.

6. Ideas are New Combinations -- Having covered the two key principles of new combinations and seeing relationships, this part of 'A Technique For Producing Ideas' introduces the Method. The Method, or idea-producing technique, is made up of 5 steps. The first step is shown to be gathering general and specific 'raw material'. Specific raw material is information that centres closely on your idea. If you were marketing a new kettle for instance, you would gather all the information about your kettle -- it's specs, features, benefits, competitors, the market, your likely customers. General knowledge is important as it gives you more raw material to work with in seeing relationships and making new combinations. James Webb Young recommends using filing cards to record ideas and bits of specific knowledge on and scrapbooks for storing and filing general knowledge items of interest.

 'A Technique For Producing Ideas' by James Webb Young7. The Mental Digestive Process -- Chapter 7 of 'A Technique For Producing Ideas' explores the second step of the technique. This basically involves chewing and digesting the raw material that you have gathered. Young reveals how you must FEEL your way into each bit of knowledge, turning it over and over in your mind, extracting the multiple meanings and significance. You play jigsaw with different bits of ideas seeing how they fit together. You should notebook your thoughts and half-ideas as they come to you during this part of 'A Technique For Producing Ideas'. Young tells us to persist through the first stages of tiredness that will come until we are thoroughly exhausted and confused by all our mulling.

The third stage of 'A Technique For Producing Ideas' is revealed to be letting go. You just drop the whole subject entirely and do something engaging and fun, like listening to music, going for a walk, or chatting with friends. For many, sleep is the third stage, where you let go and let the unconscious mind deal with it.

8. 'Constantly Thinking About It' -- This chapter says that in the fourth step of  'A Technique For Producing Ideas' the new idea just appears, when you least expect it. You've gathered data, mulled it over to the enth degree, got tired and dropped it to go sleep or do something fun and distracting, and then the idea pops into your mind. Classic examples of this are quoted by James Webb Young.

9. The Final Stage -- the final step that makes up  'A Technique For Producing Ideas' is to take your new idea and hold it up to the harsh light of reality. This is reality check time. This is where you test, edit, refine and polish your idea.

10. Some After Thoughts -- James Webb Young, author of  'A Technique For Producing Ideas', closes the book by revealing how many readers of earlier additions have written to him with praise and examples of how his method has worked for them. The author writes about his own personal experiences with the technique and re-emphasizes how new knowledge and experience can lead to new ideas and possibilities to profit. He also explains why some people seem to be able to produce great new ideas instantly on demand.  'A Technique For Producing Ideas' closes with some recommended books to further one's understanding of the idea-producing process.

Conclusions: 'A Technique For Producing Ideas' is a quick, easy read. The author is a master copywriter who has field-tested his method in the creatively demanding advertising world. The principles of idea production are identified clearly. The method revealed is simple to understand and hard to practice. However if you practice it consistently you will become an adept producer of ideas. Thus, I recommend 'A Technique For Producing Ideas'.

 This concludes the review of
'A Technique For Producing Ideas'