I recently came across a book by James Webb Young called “A Technique for Producing Ideas“. Though he presented the ideas from the book in 1939, his thoughts for generating great ideas are just as pertinent today as they were back then.
If you want to jump start your creative juices and begin producing great ideas…here is the 5 step ideation process that our mind follows to generate ideas.
1. Gather Information
In this step, you simply gather raw material. It’s about increasing your knowledge base by reading books, studying material, and writing things down.
Our problem is that we would rather sit around and hope that inspiration just comes to us. Unfortunately, our brains don’t work that way and it is a feeble attempt to jump to the end of the ideation process.
Gathering information requires that we collect everything. Young recommends carrying around 3×5 index cards to write down the specific information as you gather it. I personally use Evernote for this task. It’s always available to me on my iPhone, iPad, or MacBook. I can clip web articles, input audio notes, or type in information manually.
Whatever method you choose, the key is to collect everything and have a process for filing it away so you can recall it later.
2. Connect The Dots
This is where you take the different bits of material that you have gathered and begin to look at it in a different light. Process the material over and over in your mind, looking for patterns and relationships to see how the different pieces of information fit together.
As new thoughts or partial ideas come up, write them down as well. Even if they seem crazy at the time, get them down. These have the makings of the real idea that is to come.
Fight through mental block during step 2 until you’ve exhausted all possible combinations. Once you reach the point where everything is jumbled in your mind and no clear insight is available, then you are ready for step three.
3. Leave It Alone
Put your thoughts and partial ideas aside and let your subconscious do it’s thing. Just drop the whole subject entirely and work on an unrelated task or do something that stimulates your imagination and emotions. Go to a movie, hang out with friends, read a book, or listen to music.
Letting go and giving your mind some space to work allows your ideas to germinate, grow and expand. This leads to fresh insights when you return to your thoughts in step 4.
4. The “Aha” Moment
Out of nowhere the idea will appear. This often happens when you least expect it…while in the shower, in the middle of the night, or on the commute to work.
You’ve gathered data (step 1), mulled it over to the nth degree (step 2), and dropped it to do something else (step 3)…then you have that “aha” moment.
5. Shape & Develop
This is reality check time for your idea. It’s unlikely that your idea is ready to be implemented as is so you have to hold it up to the harsh light of scrutiny. Share your idea with others and apply the feedback to make it workable. This is where you test, edit, refine and polish your idea.