A Technique for Producing Ideas

James Young

Created on Friday, May 3, 2013.
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Very brief book that breaks the process of having an idea into a set of five strictly linear and unskippable steps.


[…] an idea is nothing more nor less than a new combination of old elements.


The capacity to bring old elements into new combinations depends largely on the ability to see relationships.


This technique of the mind follows five steps. I am sure that you will all recognize them individually. But the important thing is to recognize their relationship and to grasp the fact that the mind follows these five steps in definite order-that by no possibility can one of them be taken before the preceding one is completed, if an idea is to be produced.

The first of these steps is for the mind to gather its raw material.


Every really good creative person in advertising whom I have ever know has always had two noticeable characteristics. First, there was no subject under the sun in which he could not easily get interested-from, say, Egyptian burial customs to modern art. Every facet of life had fascination for him. Second, he was an extensive browser in all sorts of fields of information. For it is with the advertising man as with the cow: no browsing, no milk.


So it is with the production of ideas for advertising-or anything else. The construction of an advertisement is the construction of a new pattern in this kaleidoscopic world in which we live. The more of the elements of that world which are stored away in that pattern-making machine, the mind, the more the chances are increased for the production of new and striking combinations, or ideas. Advertising students who get restless about the practical” value of general college subjects might consider this.”


Now, assuming that you have done a workmanlike job of gathering material-that you have really worked at the first step-what is the next part of the process that the mind must go through? It is the process of masticating these materials, as you would food that you are preparing for digestion. This part of the process is harder to describe in concrete terms because it goes on entirely inside your head.

What you do is to take the different bits of material which you have gathered and feel them all over, as it were, with the tentacles of the mind. You take one fact, turn it this way and that, look at it in different lights, and feel for the meaning of it. You bring two facts together and see how they fit. What you are seeking now is the relationship, a synthesis where everything will come together in a neat combination, like a jig-saw puzzle.


In this third stage you make absolutely no effort of a direct nature. You drop the whole subject and put the problem out of your mind as completely as you can.

It is important to realize that this is just as definite and just as necessary a stage in the process as the two preceding ones. What you have to do at this time, apparently, is to turn the problem over to your unconscious mind and let it work while you sleep.

There is one thing you can do in this stage which will help both to put the problem out of consciousness and to stimulate the unconscious, creative processes. You remember how Sherlock Holmes used to stop right in the middle of a case and drag Watson off to a concert? That was a very irritating procedure to the practical and literal-minded Watson. But Conan Doyle was a creator and knew the creative processes.

So when you reach this third stage in the production of an idea, drop the problem completely and turn to whatever stimulates your imagination and emotions. Listen to music, go to the theater or movies, read poetry or a detective story.


One more stage you have to pass through to complete the idea-producing process: the stage which might be called the cold, gray dawn of the morning after.

In this stage you have to take your little newborn idea out into the world of reality. And when you do you usually find that it is not quite the marvelous child it seemed when you first gave birth to it. It requires a deal of patient working over to make most ideas fit the exact conditions, or the practical exigencies, under which they must work. And here is where many good ideas are lost. The idea man, like the inventor, is often not patient enough or practical enough to go through with this adapting part of the process. But it has to be done if you are to put ideas to work in a work-a-day world. Do not make the mistake of holding your idea close to your chest at this stage. Submit it to the criticism 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.


There are some advertisements you just cannot write until you have lived long enough-until, say, you have lived through certain experiences as a spouse, a parent, a businessman, or what not. The cycle of the years does something to fill your reservoir, unless you refuse to live spatially and emotionally.

That's all there is, there isn't any more.
© Desi Quintans, 2002 – 2022.