Book cover art for A Technique For Producing Ideas
A Technique For Producing Ideas
James Webb Young

There is a process for coming up with ideas that any of us are able to replicate. It takes work but can be depended upon if the process itself is trusted. A brief, 80 year old volume that enjoys a special place in the history of writing about ideas.

The Technique

  1. Gather raw material - both 1) specific to the subject matter, and 2) general to your wider interests. Herein lies the possibility of interesting and new combinations between the two. Write things down and keep them somewhere you can find them and, ideally, make links between them.
  2. Process the material - allow it to sit in your notebook and in your mind for a time. While it is in your mind, your conscious and subconscious thought processes will chew on what you've taken in. This is where a sort of jigsaw-like synthesis takes place.
  3. Drop it completely - go for a run. Sleep. Take a bath. Play a videogame or read a crime novel. Step away from what you have been thinking about.
  4. Let the idea appear - trust the process as above and ideas will begin to formulate and bubble to the surface of your mind.
  5. Bring the idea into the real world - make the idea practicable, useful and attempt to make it work in the real world. 'Submit it to the criticism of the judicious.' Without this step it's just a pipe dream. 'Good ideas have self-expanding qualities,' in that those who see it may add to it productively.

Detailed Notes

  • It is completely possible to formulate a dependable process or technique for coming up with ideas. It is just as much a process as any in a factory - it's a matter of practice for improving upon it.
  • Pareto was said to have made the observation that the world is made of two sorts of people: the 'speculator' and the 'rentier'. The speculator is the sort who is constantly pre-occupied with discovering and combining ideas, old and new, in the pursuit of innovation. The rentier is the sort of person who we would now say has a 'fixed mindset'; the plodder, the conservative, the stick-in-the-mud. Unless you see yourself as the rentier sort of person, you are likely to be capable of coming up with a great number of ideas, and good ones at that.
  • 'In learning any art, the important things to learn are, first, Principles; and second, Method. This is true of the art of producing ideas.' p7
  • The creation of new ideas is nothing more than the combining of old ideas together. It is the view that information, data, knowledge is not discrete and separate but rather related in context and possible to interconnect and weave together in any fashion we deem suitable.
  • 'To some minds each fast is a separate bit of knowledge. To others it is a link in a chain of knowledge. It has relationships and similarities. It is not so much a fact as an illustration of a general law applying to a whole series of facts.' p8
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