It’s amazing that decades after its publication, Young’s 5-step technique for producing ideas is still relevant today.  James Webb Young, a successful ad man inducted into the American Advertising Federation Hall of Fame, documented his thinking process to spark creativity in advertising. He stated that, as with any art, you need to start by understanding the relevant principles and methods.

“What is most valuable to know is not where to look for a particular idea, but how to train the mind in the method by which ideas are produced; and how to grasp the principles which are the source of all ideas.”

He referenced Vilfredo Pareto’s quote:

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

In other words, there is nothing new under the sun.  The secret is to make links or connections that no one else has.  A search for relationships between seemingly unrelated facts is of the highest importance in producing ideas.

Step 1: Gather Raw Materials Gather both specific and general raw materials.  In advertising, the specific materials are related to your products and your target audience, while the general materials are about life and events.  You need to know how your products impact your audience’s day-to-day lives. Constantly browse and gather information.  “Part of it, you will see, is a current job and part of it is a life-long job.”  Train your minds to observe, then store it away.

Step 2: Digest Materials Start putting different pieces of information together.  Bring 2-3 facts together and see how they fit.  “What you are seeking is the relationship: a synthesis where everything will come together in a neat combination like a jig-saw puzzle.” This is also a stage at which you get mentally exhausted and feel lost and hopeless without clear insight.  That’s OK!  Don’t give up.  This stage is overcome when you have a preliminary idea of how you fit your puzzle together.

Step 3: Internalize Materials Unconsciously Drop everything and put the problem out of your mind as completely as you can!  Let your subconscious mind work on it. “You remember how Sherlock Holmes used to stop right in the middle of a case, and drag Watson off to a concert?”  Yes, Sherlock is working through step 3 and is very close to solving his case.

Step 4: The Eureka Moment Out of nowhere the Idea will appear!  I experience this all the time.  When I am thinking about the flow of a presentation, I usually struggle with the opening.  I’ve struggled for days, then, Bingo, a great opening will mysteriously pop in my mind from nowhere. When a lady asked Sir Isaac Newton how he came to discover the law of gravitation, he is said to have replied: “By constantly thinking about it.”

Step 5: Bring Ideas to Life “The stage might be called the cold, gray dawn of the morning after.”

“You have to take your little idea out into the world of reality… It requires a deal of patient working over to make most ideas fit the exact conditions, or the practical exigencies,  under which they might work”

“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…Thus possibilities in it which you have overlooked will come to light.” When I put the book down, I thought this is about the best $4.99 I have ever spent this year!


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