Ming the Mechanic:
A technique for producing ideas

The NewsLog of Flemming Funch
 A technique for producing ideas2007-06-07 12:32
picture by Flemming Funch

A technique for producing ideas is a little book by James Webb Young, originally written in 1939. It is considered quite a classic, particularly among advertising people. I didn't know about it, though, so thanks to Guy Dickinson for mentioning it.

It presents a very simple and sensible strategy for producing ideas. Nothing really revolutionary, but he makes it very clear and reproducible.

A basic concept is that new ideas come from combinations of old elements. So, you need a lot of raw material, you need to work on putting it together, and you need to give the ideas space to appear in. The technique consists of roughly these 5 steps:

1. Gather material. If there's some particular area you need ideas for, you'd want to gather all the information you have, and organize it. Specific information. If you're dealing with a particular product, you'd need to know exactly what is unique about it, what it is made of, etc. You also need a repository of more general knowledge, about life. It is often best to gather that without any immediate thought as to where it will fit in later. But delve into different areas, learn how they work, and keep the knowledge. Put together a large storehouse of information that you later can draw from.

2. Work on the particular area you have in mind. Try to combine the elements you have. Think about it all the time. Chew on everything you know. Look for connections, previously unseen relations between elements. Look for how other things you know might relate to elements of the task at hand. Work it all over, possibly to a point where you just can't stand it anymore and you aren't getting any further.

3. Then drop it. Go do something else. Really what you're doing is that you're letting sub-conscious processes take over. So, the information is being digested under the surface. New ideas are incubating, while your conscious attention is elsewhere. So, go do something entirely different, but with some emotional involvement. Go for a walk, listen to a concert, paint the fence.

4. Ideas get born. They pop into your mind when you don't expect it. Maybe when you're walking in the forest, maybe when you're snoozing in the morning. Moments of "I've got it!" are much more likely when you've done the previous steps, i.e. you've gathered material, you've mulled it over, you've let it digest, and, bing, ideas pop up.

5. Develop the idea into something useful. Go and try it out, or tell it to other people. You might need to adjust some things, or, if it is a good idea, it takes on a life of its own and takes off.

So, it is simple. No great surprise there. But if one leaves something out, it won't work so well. There's not much basis for new ideas unless you've gathered a lot of material to have ideas about or ideas with. It won't happen unless you really try to put these things together. And it probably won't happen just by working hard on it, but more likely the moment you let go. And afterwards you need to continue adjusting the idea to have it become reality.

I found the text of the book also as a PDF. And here's another review.

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23 Jun 2007 @ 10:18 by Samir @ : neat
i just came by to say thanks.. great article.

I tend to do this all the time, I never make a decision on the spot (if i dont have to). And I never go with the first idea.. it works for me very well.


17 Feb 2010 @ 03:07 by Luis @ : Hi
I have sometime looking for this book but i just can't find it overhere, then i saw that link on the bottom of your review but it's broken. I wonder if you can mail me the good one or if you can send the PDF it will be so helpful, cuz i really have been looking for the book on the library and bookstores and simply had no luck.

Tnx, by the way it's a liked the article. my email is lomaspunketo@msn.com if you can send me the link or the PDF. i'll really appreciate it!!  

19 Dec 2014 @ 18:03 by Sirisak @ : WggVattXxIcJauLY
about the press and the media manipulating etyervhing out of context, is all true. With Ming resigning, it just showed that the LibDem was weak, easily knocked down. My point is that, why on earth did the LibDems not take that as an opportunity to show the Nation how strong u could be (what u said in the msg). Ming could persist only with the support of his own party. I'm sure the silver voters would give him plenty of support too if he were given the chance. People would have more respect for your party.The LibDems had already missed one huge opportunity a few years ago (remember when the Govt was at its lowest point?) by electing the wrong leader who had absolutely no chance whatsoever (seriously wrong, see my prev msg). I can't believe that they r missing it again.There were some pretty awful Labour politicians at the top, but they won the elections: their leader categorically implied black was right, right to the very end! the msg was so persistent and convincing even he believed it himself! I'm not suggesting the LibDems to be immoral as well, just to play smarter. That man might be the worst PM ever but he showed how strong he was (and the voters like that). Your party could have made it. (If I had known Ming was resigning, I would have tried to write my suggestion policies earlier. Not that u would listen to me Can u honestly say that by Ming going, the LibDem will stand a better chance to win the next election? hmmm I think not.  

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