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A Technique for Producing Ideas

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  4,439 ratings  ·  225 reviews
A step-by-step technique for sparking breakthrough creativity in advertising--or any field

Since its publication in 1965, A Technique for Producing Ideas has helped thousands of advertising copywriters smash through internal barriers to unleash their creativity. Professionals from poets and painters to scientists and engineers have also used the techniques in this concise,
Paperback, 64 pages
Published February 11th 2003 by McGraw-Hill Education (first published 1940)
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Feb 23, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2013, non_fiction
The basic argument of this book is very simple: "ideas" are new combinations of old elements— facts, images, etc.— and that a creative person is one who is readily able to see relationships between such elements and so find new ways of combining them. The "technique" Young describes is also very simple, and rather common-sense: learn as much as you can, both about the specific thing you are working on and the world in general (because more facts in your head equals more possible relationships an ...more
Mar 09, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A short book with a big idea--that's it's possible to follow a step by step process in generating and developing ideas. Young is an advertiser, and the book is aimed primarily at advertisers, but it's useful for anyone in a creative field who wants to focus on the process of coming up with ideas.

The process is five-step: 1)gather material for ideas; 2) chew on the material to look at relationships; 3)put everything aside to let the material percolate; 4) wait for the idea to come up; 5) fit the
Graeme Roberts
Nov 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Do you wish that authors would stop padding their stories and ideas with unnecessary bumpf? That lovely word originated in WWII when English soldiers were overwhelmed with unnecessary printed materials, and used them as toilet paper or "bum fodder." Even excellent and important books would be unarguably better in a slim volume, rather than a massive tome.

A Technique for Producing Ideas, supremely bumpf-free, is just such a volume, elegant and beautiful in its simplicity, and profoundly true. Ja
Aug 11, 2011 added it
I don't believe you could spend thirty more productive minutes if you lived to be 100 years old. This book was initially developed for and by advertising minds who often believe they have sole claim to practical creativity. This method is applicable to creativity and problem solving in virtually every situation. Describing five simple steps, James Webb Young has crafted an easy-to learn, simple process that you can apply to spark creativity. You will have to put in some effort, and some of that ...more
Olivier Goetgeluck
Mar 19, 2014 rated it liked it
"An idea is nothing more than a new combination of old elements."

Five steps to producing ideas:
1. read/watch/absorb wide variety of subjects (both general and specific to your subject)
2. think about the stuff you read about
3. stop thinking about it all for a while; let it all marinate subconsciously
4. idea! (write em all down, even if you think they're shit or too abstract)
5. do work

Don't read about advertising, read about social sciences/psychology.
Magdalene Lim
Aug 23, 2012 rated it liked it
Recommended to Magdalene by: Carrie Lee
Good to have/read.

My favourite part of the book or booklet (because it's so short) is the suggestion to get "those little 3 x 5 ruled white cards and use them to write down the items of specific information as you gather them. If you do this, one item to a card, after a while you can begin to classify them by sections of your subject."

I also liked his likening of ideas to atolls (works for icebergs too but atolls sound cuter), where you only see only the brilliant idea at the top but not the str
Nov 13, 2012 rated it really liked it
Short and incredibly to the point. Loved it. I took a course in creativity at UCLA which was 10 weeks long and frankly, this book encapsulated the 10-week course well.

I've posted on amazon a review but basically where I think people have issues with this is in the incubation phase - we have a hard time just letting go and "allowing" good ideas to come to us. I know I struggle with this part, and I know I'm not alone.

But when I can let go, I'm amazed and it's always a situation of taking the show
Mubarak Dawood
Aug 29, 2018 rated it liked it
it was a fun quick read .. it helped me figure out the process of finding ideas .. and ever since my creativity process is much faster
Imaculate Mosha
Jul 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: productivity, writing
Love that it is short and to the point.

The central tenet is that ideas are just combinations of elements. From adverstising Bernbach extracts the following universal steps to generating ideas:
1. Research: Specific research on the topic and general subjects research
2. Actively think about what you absorbed and how it can be combined
3. Step away. Let your subconscious do the work while you engage in other activities.
4. Idea! Eureka!
5. Get to work, ask for feedback, build on it.
Aug 03, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Amir-massoud by: Scientists, Writers, etc
Shelves: humanities
A very short and concise book on how to produce ideas. One can even consider it as a long article.
The author talks about two main principles behind generating new ideas ( (a) an idea is a combination of old components, and (b) the capacity to bring old elements to a new one depends on the ability to see relationships) and introduces five methods to achieve that.
Those methods are not surprising. You probably heard about them and may even perform some of them regularly. What *might* be different f
Mar 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
"Words being symbols of ideas, we can collect ideas by collecting words." ...more
Sindre Aspaas
Nov 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
It's pretty rare for a book to combine exactly the right length with exactly the right amount of elaboration. This does just that. It's short, precise and to the point, without skipping any necessary details. It's also written in that earlier U.S. style that has since been abandoned, but combines the modern crispness of writing with a more sophisticated breadth of references than you'll find in some boring modern business book which inevitably includes stories about Steve Jobs and implausible co ...more
محمد حمزة
*Idea: a new combination of old elements*

Five PRACTICAL steps:

1) Gathering of raw materials - both the materials of your immediate problem and the materials which from a constant enrichment of your store of general knowledge.

2) Working over of these materials in your mind.

3) Incubating stage, let something beside the conscious mind do the work of synthesis.

4) The actual birth of the idea, "I have it" stage.

5) Final shaping and development of this idea to practical usefulness.

A practical classic
Jul 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A very short book but not a quick read although easily read multiple times. It is a book for creatives, specifically advertising professionals, on how to generate ideas, but I say it is a book for problem solvers to generate solutions. The process is boiled down to 5 steps and going through the steps I thought to multiple times that "yes, that's exactly how I got the idea to . . .".

One of my favorite quotes in the book in Chapter 10:
Of course, if you consider that your education was finished wh
May 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
It was a very nice quick read. I really enjoyed it. The book has some nice and interesting points which will definitely be useful.

Feb 05, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Pound for pound and page for page this has got to be probably one of the best books I've ever read in terms of insights and ideas that it's generated for me. I often mark with a dot on the top right of the top left corner of a page an interesting point which I read on that page. And although this is a very small book this book was practically littered with dots and underlined sections. The book is essentially about the process with which we can go about producing ideas. In a nutshell James Webb ...more
Dan Martin
Jun 06, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I have now read this book twice (not that hard as it's about a thirty minute read). Like Paul Arden's book "It's Not How Good You Are, It's How Good You Want To Be", I found this book to be incredibly inspiring for the creative process. Also, I find it serendipitous that in this week that I've devoted to "Filling The Well" (something I do quite often in my quest for inspiration via the spark that museums, movies, books, galleries, etc. almost always provide) I stumble upon a book that is exactly ...more
Pierre Stanley
Jan 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Short and Practical

An easy read that teaches the art of coming up with ideas. It takes some mental work to dive fully into the concepts and not just read the words. The Index-card method is my favorite. I’ve heard that Robert Green and Ryan Holiday use it for generating ideas for their books.
Rasha Alduwisi
Oct 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
A simple 5 step plan to generate new ideas. It's nice to believe that there's a method to finding the perfect solution to any creative problem, and although it's not that simple, but this method is tried and tested and proven to be the best. ...more
Jan 20, 2015 rated it liked it
Quick, simple, and short read. I suggest everyone take half an hour to an hour to read through this book, especially if you're interested in the creative minds' process. Challenging yourself to think like this could create some really unique ideas. ...more
két con
Nov 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
You remember how Sherlock Holmes used to stop right in the middle of it case, and drag Watson off to a concert?
That was a very irritating procedure to the practical and literal-minded Watson.
But Conan Doyle was a creator and knew the creative process.
Jul 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2013
The advertising classic. You can read it in an hour. It is still insanely useful and valuable. A must read for all creatives.
In his last year as an advertising agency executive, James Webb Young was taking an apparently urgent meeting with a client at a well-known magazine. It turned out that the magazine had decided that their future strategy should be to “sell ideas”. However, after that they got stuck and now they turned to Webb with the question: “You have produced a lot of advertising ideas. Just how do you get them? The boys are waiting for me to come back to tell them.” Totally unprepared for the topic at hand ...more
Mustafa Shaqdih
Jul 26, 2018 rated it liked it
Interesting read, Ideas are just new combinations of old elements, and the ability to see relationships between these old elements determines your ability to produce ideas.

to produce an idea you have to go through five stages, the first stage is “ raw material gathering” which means gathering specific and general knowledge, specific knowledge is collected by studying, comparing and finding differences while the general knowledge is just to be interested in general subjects or discussions that co
Juhi Bansal
Jan 10, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have always been asked these questions - "How did you get this idea?" or "How are you so creative?".

There was always a creative streak since childhood, and I am happy my right brain is more active than the left one. But if I have to summarize the process, it would be -
Read as much as you can. Not only books, read articles, newspapers, random posts on social media. Do not restrict yourself to a specific genre. Read about politics, romance, history, religion, culture, mythology, management, se
Jan 31, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: business, self-help
This is the process we all go through to come up with ideas, but it's nice to have it laid out into more formal steps. Here they are:

1. Gather raw material, both specific and general.
a. Specific: Intimate knowledge of product and consumer. Go deep to figure out the differences.
b. General: Read widely. Be interested in knowing a little about a lot of different topics.

2. Constantly think about the idea.
a. Work over the materials in your mind.
b. Turn them this way and that.
c. Work toward pa
Jun 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
Nothing about this book will blow your mind, and for many people that will be a disappointment. It simply lays out five simple steps for generating ideas—steps that sound more like work than wizardry.

Most of the steps are so obvious that it's tempting to dismiss them, and it is because the steps are so easily dismissed that good ideas are rare. Most people can't consistently generate great ideas precisely because they attempt to skip one or more of the steps—or they overlook them altogether.

Yolo Yearwood
If you are trying to figure out how to stimulate your creative side and come up with solutions to difficult, near impossible problems, then this method is beneficial. In "Einstein" by Walter Isaacson, Einstein did the same thing as Young suggests, spending deep focus on a problem that needs solved, then taking regular walks to relax his mind, after which the answer would pop up in his mind. I personally didn't learn anything new by reading Young's book, given I've heard of and practice this met ...more
Mar 09, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing, non-fiction, 2021
This pamphlet is short, but one of my pet peeves with some non-fiction books is that they have one solid idea to expound and they milk it for all it’s worth over a bloatfest of 200 or more pages. This little gem has solid one idea and gets to the point quickly and painlessly. Yes, the author was an award-winning adman, and the context is advertising, but that shouldn’t put off the creative mind. Young's concept is as useful to creative artists and writers as it is to the more commercial world of ...more
Chris Dziewa
Aug 06, 2020 rated it liked it
I thought this was a decent-sounding approach for idea generation. I really liked the brevity of it. If this were written now, a different author would probably make it 200 pages of mostly fluff and sales pitches for their seminars. Though I haven't explicitly followed these steps, I have run into the 4th stage of an idea appearing somewhat frequently in the past. I have no trouble with learning about all different things, though I could probably benefit from the author's idea of writing down th ...more
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James Webb Young (1886-1973) was an American advertising executive who became First Chairman of The Advertising Council.

He was inducted in the American Advertising Federation Hall of Fame.

Young received many honors and awards including the Advertising Man of the Year Award in 1946.

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When it comes to whiling away the dog days of summer, nothing is better than a good book. Or two. Or three. Let’s say ten! We’re getting...
27 likes · 4 comments
“An idea is nothing more or less than a new combination of old elements (Quoted from Vilfredo Pareto)” 7 likes
“In learning any art the important things to learn are, first, Principles, and second, Method. This is true of the art of producing ideas.” 5 likes
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