Notes from A Technique for Producing Ideas

A tiny book lent to me by a friend, which can be summarized in far fewer words still. The insights, however, are as strong as any.

The book is a 20-minute read, and someone even typed it out online. It’s worth reading for the examples, though most of the content can be summarized as below.

My main takeaways were 1) the value of life-long general knowledge in eventually bearing fruit, and 2) the importance of stepping away from the work to wait for the ‘a-ha’ moment.

Notes

The two principles for producing ideas:

  1. An idea is nothing more nor less than a new combination of old elements. (15)
  2. The capacity to bring old elements into new combinations depends largely on the ability to see relationships. (16)

And the five steps for producing them:

  1. Gather raw material – Both specific (related to your project) and general (anything interesting at all), as much of it as possible, over your entire lifetime, preferably with a cataloging system to look it up later. My blog forms this, I think.

  2. Chew on it – Mash up all the material you have, and spend some time looking at it in different ways.

  3. Take a break – Stop trying to solve the problem, and go to a concert or something. Let the idea incubate.

  4. Have an ‘a-ha!’ moment – Really, it just happens. But write it down, eh?

  5. Make it real – the follow-through, and where most ideas die. But if you share the idea with others at this stage, it might just have “self-expanding qualities” where “it stimulates those who see it to add to it.” (39)

The value of the general knowledge:

In advertising an idea results from a new combination of specific knowledge about products and people with general knowledge about life and events. (25)

There are some advertisements you just cannot write until you have lived long enough – until, say, you have lived through certain experiences as a spouse, a parent, a businessman, or what not. The cycles of the years does something to fill your reservoir. (44)