‘A Technique for Producing Ideas’ by James Webb Young is an excellent little book I came across via the Silence Media book club. It’s a wonderfully quick read that provides great insight into how ideas are formed and how to go about cultivating your own.
First published in the 1940’s, the book explains the technique in relation to putting together ad campaigns; however it can be more broadly applied.
The technique is broken down into a 5 step process. The first two processes, and the ones I personally found the most interesting, look at firstly the gathering of information, and secondly the analysing and manipulation of this information.
Young explains that only through a thorough understanding of our product, audience and the world around us, can we have any hope of generating good ideas. If for no other reason, the first couple of stages of this process just act as an excuse for collecting all the useless pub quiz facts we do throughout our lives – at some point in the future it may be pivotal to a campaign idea knowing how many No 1s Kyle Minogue had or being able to recite all the lyrics to Fresh Prince.
The quality of the idea is drawn completely from the amount and level of information a person has, this is because the formation of the idea comes from combining and observing these facts together. Young didn’t have Wikipedia in the 1940’s and despite Google being able to tell you nearly everything you want to know, it cannot draw associations in the same way as humans.
Young puts particular emphasis on gaining a truer understanding of our target audience in this fact finding stage. The insights we gather on our customers’ behaviours are central to the quality of ideas and work we produce as an agency. Our recent evolution to ‘The Behavioural Planning Agency’ ensures the foundations for truly great ideas are being laid for all client campaigns.
Once all the information has been gathered, Young says that you need to mull all this information over, combining and examining all the facts from different angles. This has to be done almost to the point of exhaustion, only then are you ready to move on to the third stage which is to leave it alone!
By distracting yourself and letting your subconscious to do the fourth stage – the brainwave stage – Young states you are allowing these great ideas to form. You may be on a run, in the shower, or half way through another meeting when these eureka moments happen.
The final and fifth stage is equally important as it is when the practicality of the idea is considered.
Although the idea may have seemed flawless when it first popped into your brain, it rarely is when you dig a little deeper. Therefore at this stage, Young encourages people to share the idea with others so that it can be viewed in a different light and bigger and better interpretations can be explored. Just as an author wouldn’t expect a first draft to be the finished novel, fledgling ideas need to be nurtured. Other people with other information (see stage one) can only help to grow an idea.
Young says that the process and method for idea production is simple to grasp but hard to actually do and I definitely think most creative types will have experienced this in one way or another. Although the concept seems obvious now, back in the 1940’s this was one of the bedrocks of creativity of which our industry is built on today.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone who works in any sort of problem-solving profession, all the way from advertisers, through to teachers, lawyers, poets and engineers.