How to Generate Ideas in Five Simple (But Not Easy) Steps

Thanks to Jon Acuff’s InstaGram feed, I learned about a little book called, A Technique for Producing Ideas, by James Webb Young. Acuff indicated that every time he needs an idea he goes through the process outlined in this book. I had to order it immediately.

The book only cost about $7, and it’s a mere 48 pages long. It came in the mail yesterday and I immediately sat down and read the whole thing. You see, as a pastor, I have to come up with new ideas on a weekly, if not daily, basis. Every week I crave ideas that will help me present the Word of God in new and interesting ways. It’s not easy to do that week after week. I also need ideas for ways to promote and publicize, for teaching techniques, for illustrations, and for outreach efforts.

One thing in the book affirmed something I told my son, Ben, just last week. He is a songwriter, and is constantly on the hunt for ideas to be included in his songs. Not often, but on occasion, he has complained about certain “core” classes that he has to take in his college curriculum. I have told him in the past that even “core” classes are a way of generating ideas.

Right now he’s taking an art class. He loves it. He especially loved visiting an art museum last week. While he was there I texted him: “Remember. This is a great way of generating ideas for songs.”

Here’s where this is affirmed in the book A Technique for Producing Ideas: The first step in generating ideas is gathering raw materials. That means that information comes from every facet of life. A creative person is interested in how things work, where they come from, how people react, where Cambodia is, or what it’s like to fly on a plane. Recently, Ben and his friends have been watching documentaries of all kinds, especially ones about North Korea of all things. He has been fascinated, and even got me interested in the subject.

Here’s what Young says about gathering raw materials:

Every really good creative person in advertising whom I have ever known has always had two noticeable characteristics: First, there was no subject under the sun in which he could not easily get interested — from, say, Egyptian burial customs to modern art. Every facet of life had fascination for him. Second, he was an extensive browser in all sorts of fields of information.

The internet has given us the greatest tool ever to be able to explore almost anything we want. At the touch of a key we can learn, grow, and become wiser.

You’ll have to read the book for yourself to understand completely how these techniques work, but here is Young’s five step process:

  1. Gather raw materials.
  2. Work over the raw materials in your mind.
  3. Let it all incubate (Let something beside the conscious mind do the work of synthesis).
  4. The actual birth of the idea.
  5. Final shaping and development of the idea to practical usefulness.

One note: Probably the hardest part of the whole process is doing the sometimes tedious work of gathering “raw materials” and information. Everyone wants great ideas, but they don’t want to spend the time learning and growing. But that’s the fertile soil from which ideas take root, and sprout, and grow.

Start gathering raw materials right now. You never know how those materials will give birth to an idea later on.

What’s one thing new you have learned today? Please share it in the comment section below. I’d love to use your responses for my own gathering of raw material. Thanks!

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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One thought on “How to Generate Ideas in Five Simple (But Not Easy) Steps

  1. This sounds interesting.

    I haven't read the book, so I'm wondering: what is unique about this process? I assume Young gives a new slant, but the general process of "come up with some general principles or concepts, kick them around for a while, and this will generate an idea which you then refine" sounds like what every creative person goes through.

    Does Young give something new about this?

    Even if he doesn't, though, it's still a good reminder for Americans who like to believe that ideas spring forth fully formed, like Athena from Zeus' forehead, whenever "inspiration strikes."