4 Simple Steps to Creating Great Ideas

September 1, 2016 by Jason Smith

Technique for Producing Ideas is a short book, under 40 pages, that outlines a technique to answer:


“Can a formula or technique be developed to answer: How do you get Ideas?” – James Young

The book, written by James Webb Young, was originally a speech written for advertising graduates of the University of Chicago around 1940. It has since fallen into the public domain and is available in PDF.

Two important general principles when creating ideas.

One is that an idea is nothing more nor less than a new combination of old elements. I pretty much agree with this notion. Actually I can’t think of any truly original ideas off hand.

The second is the ability to see relationships. If you are going to combine two elements to create a new idea than being good at seeing relationships between objects is going to be of great help. Being able to see relationships that most people do not see would put you at an even higher level of idea creation.

Will This Technique Work For You?

Based on the notion of combinations and relationships, James points out a notion mentioned in Mind and Society written by Pareto. James refers to this notion as The Pareto Theory.

Most of you are probably thinking of the Pareto Principle better known as the 80/20 rule.

Either way, the point James wishes to make is that Pareto, in his book, refers to two types of people. The first, speculators, who are constantly pre-occupied with the possibilities of new combinations. Two, the rentiers (stockholders), who are routine and unimaginative.

Regardless of how valid the Pareto Theory is the idea is that there is a group of people for whom no technique will help them produce more ideas. On the other hand there is a large group of individuals whom this technique will greatly help.

Most people will find themselves in the middle, or gray area, of the spectrum. So it is up to you to decide whether learning this or any other technique is worth your time.

How do improve your idea skills?

Training The Mind

As with any technique training over time should improve your results. The steps below are simple enough. However, the more you practice the better your ideas will be and the easier ideas and connection will come to you.


“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.” – James Young

Step 1: Gather Raw Material (General and Specific)

This may seem simple and obvious but it’s often ignored. Not sure why. Perhaps it’s boring, perhaps we feel we already know the base information. Take the time to write things down or gather your materials in one place though.

Specific Material

In advertising the specific material would be the product details and the “people to whom you propose to sell it.” In today’s common terms this would be the details of what you are selling (you, your product or your business) along with the demographics and psychographics of your target audience.

The details of what you’re selling should be deep, not just surface elements.

Psychographics describe why they buy and how to talk to them, it includes: personality, attitudes, values, interests, hobbies, lifestyle, and behavior.

Demographics describe who is buying and includes: age, location, gender, income, education, occupation, ethnicity, marital status, and number of children.

General Material

Is just as important but seemingly has little or nothing to do with your target product. Collecting general material is a continuous process. If you are serious about creating ideas, or need to produce a lot of ideas, carry around a notebook of some type. Write down those spontaneous ideas, great ads, catchy phrases, topics to research, and any other bit of interesting material that crosses your path in day-to-day life.

This is the “never know when you will use it” type of information. Often a revelation in one industry is common practice in another. So constantly look around and track those things that stick out. Study industries outside of your own. Take note of what is working for them.

Step 2: The Mental Digestive Process

Basically, this is the process of brainstorming. Your letting it all sink in, thinking things over, or mulling it all over. Young’s description isn’t particularly enticing…

“next part of the process … masticating these materials … goes on entirely in your head … You bring two facts together and see how they fit.” – James Young

Partial Ideas: As you go through this step little ideas will come up. Write these all down regardless of how impossible, crazy, or incomplete they may seem.

Step 3: The Subconscious

In this third step give you subconscious a chance to digest the material and ideas so far. Do something that stimulates your emotion, listen to music, watch a great movie, or read a book.

“make absolutely no effort of a direct nature” – James Young

This is that “it came to me in the shower” or aha moment. Or for the Back To The Future generation, slipping on the toilet and coming up with the flux capacitor moment.

Personally, I often “sleep on it” to see how I feel in the morning.

Constantly Thinking About It

If you have gone through each of these steps you should be a state of constantly thought, either consciously or subconsciously. Give yourself some time to reset and relax, basically give the idea or topic some time.

Step 4: Tweaking Your Idea

It’s time to bring your idea from paper into reality. Often times this point when you realize the idea is not as great as you felt when it first popped into your head.

This is the stage at which many ideas die…

Not because they are bad ideas but more likely because of a lack of patience to refine the idea. Nearly every idea needs to go through a refinement stage. This is when the idea is adapted to the specific situation.

However, do not make the mistake of making an emotional attachment to any one idea. No matter how great an idea is it simply may not fit the situation or be the time to release it to the world.

Some Parting Words…

“The principle of constantly expanding your experience, both personally and vicariously, does matter tremendously in any idea-producing job. Make no mistake about it.” – James Young