Lightbulb moment

James Webb Young helps shed light on the mystery of coming up with ideas

By: Nicola Robey,   2 minutes

light bulb moment

Imagination, it’s not something you can pin down and dissect, not a tangible good that you can weigh out by the pound and certainly not something you can borrow willy nilly like a friend’s jumper. The value of a good idea is colossal. It’s both the catalyst of change and the master of revolution.

At Stranger, imagination and ideas are the lynchpin of everything we do. The execution and delivery of all of our conceptual projects begin with that tiny fluttering of an idea, a wave of a thought that’s harnessed, moulded and developed into a whole.

With this in mind, I got thinking about how ideas are created. If forming these life-changing, mind-bending, head-tilting ideas is your day to day duty, then how do you keep your mind popping them out?

Luckily, as time to take my Day 10 rolled around, Helen and Clare placed a copy of James Webb Young’s seminal text A Technique for Producing Ideas on my desk. With a title to inspire confidence in my quest, I was eager to be enlightened.

Webb Young’s concise book, (47 pages in fact) has graced the hands of advertising, copywriting and general idea generators everywhere, since its publication in 1940s New York.  As I turned the pages it was clear why. According to Young there just so happens to be a tried and tested formula for harnessing those thoughts that lurk in the very recesses of your mind.

So without further ado here’s a condensed version of his process with some of my own annotations:

1.     Gather all your raw materials. Both the materials of your immediate problem and the materials which come from a constant enrichment of your general knowledge

Stockpile as much information on your project as possible, read it. Then every day read something completely unrelated to your work. It could be the history of a lesser spotted moth or perhaps Peter Stringfellow’s autobiography.

2.     Work these materials through in your mind

Apparently the fusion of general knowledge and the refined honed in knowledge will be the recipe for whipping up your genius idea.

3.     The incubating stage, where you let something other than the conscious mind do the synthesis

This is my favourite  stage. Webb Young encourages you to do absolutely anything but work on your project. Go for a walk, watch Ms Marple, have a stiff drink, anything goes. All the time you’ll be safe in the knowledge that those genius cogs of yours are turning.

4.     The birth of the idea

We’ve all had a moment when per se, you’ll be driving to the supermarket and the answer for that pesky 90s Trivial Pursuit question finally dawns on you. Like a flash of lightening (just a lot less dramatic), your brain will deliver fried gold.

5.     The final shaping and development of the idea to practical usefulness

Now all that’s left to do is to mould this idea into something useful. Thanks James.

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