The ability to produce great ideas one after the other is a coveted skill in both work and life. For years, I have been using the process outlined in the 1926 book, the Art of Thought by Graham Wallas to generate great ideas. Recently, I learned about A Technique for Producing Ideas by James Webb Young, so I did a quick search on the internet to get additional information. I found two articles that summarized the book, which is only 48 pages in length, and felt the method described sounded similar to the one outlined in the Art of Thought.

As a professional with over 15 years research experience, I felt it important to read the book for myself because information that I may think is important might have been left out of the articles that I read. It is interesting that I noted the similarities between the idea generation process outlined by James Webb Young and Graham Wallas because at the end of his book, Young recommends that readers also read the Art of Thought (as well as Science & Method and The Art of Scientific Investigation) to better understand the whole idea generation process. Incidentally, the Art of Thought was written in 1926 and A Technique for Producing Ideas in the 1940s.

This is my interpretation of the information outlined in A Technique for Producing Ideas.

5 Steps to Idea Generation

Step 1: Gathering Information

There are two types of information to gather:

  • Specific

    • Gather as much information as possible on the topic of interest
    • Write down the information on 3×5 index cards, one item per card
    • Classify the information by sections of the topic of interest
  • General

    • This is an ongoing process throughout your life
    • Record any interesting information you come across in a scrapbook or other filing method that makes sense for you

Step 2: Working Over the Information in Your Mind

  • Look at the information you gathered from many different angles
  • Synthesize the information
  • Merge two facts and see how they fit together
  • Connect the information with what you already know, nothing exists in a vacuum
  • As tentative or partial ideas come to you, no matter how crazy or incomplete, document them on the index card, one idea per card
  • Do not stop until you have at least one partial or incomplete idea
  • When everything is a jumble or it is pointless for you to do additional work, it is time for the next step

Step 3: Incubation

  • Turn over the problem to your subconscious mind
  • Work on an unrelated task or do something which stimulates the imagination and emotions

Step 4: Eureka! I have It

  • When you least expect it, the idea comes to you

Step 5: Shaping & Developing the Idea

  • The idea will unlikely be ready to be implemented as is
  • Subject it to criticism – test it, then refine it

5 Great Ideas

  • An idea is a combination of old elements
  • The capacity to combine old elements into something new is dependent on the ability to see relationships and make connections
  • Build a reservoir of knowledge, which is filled with life experiences, facts and other information
  • Learning is a lifelong process
  • Constantly expand your experiences personally and vicariously

I liked A Technique for Producing Ideas by James Webb Young and will integrate his process into Wallas’ process. It is a fantastic idea to keep a scrapbook for general information. When you come across really interesting information that you are presently unable to use, where do you park it so you do not forget it? My suggestion is that you create an electronic document to store that important information. The older you get, the more general information you would have amassed, which aids greatly in creative problem solving. I recommend A Technique for Producing Ideas.

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