Monday, July 16, 2012

Ideas - What are they & How do we get them ?

HeadshotIf you wish to understand the process of your creativity and train yourself to get good ideas, you should read this.

One of the most influential work on the Creative Process is the timeless classic book "A Technique for Producing Ideas" by James Webb Young (1886-1973) published in 1940. I could read this book in an hour without exerting myself much, it is written in a very simple & lucid style. It is full of practical wisdom from an advertising man who made a living out of his ideas. Unfortunately it took me 5 years to read this book and I wish to share the wisdom of this book without any delay.

There are two simple Hypotheses at the beginning of the discussion:

Hypothesis # 1. An Idea is nothing less nor more than a new combination of old elements.

Hypothesis # 2.The capacity to bring old elements into new combinations is enhanced by an ability to see relationships.

Idea generation process

Step # 1.  Creating a T-Profile

Gather raw material (a) specific knowledge (about the problem to be solved, product to be designed etc) (b) general knowledge (about everything else - life, events etc) - part of it is your current job and part of it is a life time job.

What we need is a T-shaped profile - depth in specific knowledge and a breadth in a wide variety of other knowledge. This is becoming very important for generating innovative ideas.

In time, all of science will come to be a continuum of description, an explanation of networks, of principles and laws. That’s why you need not just be training in one specialty, but also acquire breadth in other fields, related to and even distant from your own initial choice - E.O. Wilson (Harvard Sociobiologist).

This concept has led to the idea of creating Creativity Hubs:

Engineers alone won’t make it. We need to put engineers together with writers, storytellers, advertising people, artists… an army of engineers alone can’t succeed.
To create, it is better to be around people with different mindsets. It’s not just a world where an engineer meets another engineer, it’s a world where an engineer meets an artist, a movie person, an advertising person… The people, and even companies and countries that will succeed are those that will focus on creative hubs rather than R&D centers. - Erel Margalit (Israeli VC)
Step # 2. Assimilation - Now look at the bits of information, both individually an din combination, to see how they fit with each other. First some partial ideas may come - they may be crazy, incomplete etc - still note them down carefully. Nothing much may happen for a long time and you may get tired of fitting the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle together. After some more time, you will feel totally saturated and hopeless. Will you give up a this stage ?
Step #3.  Incubation - Now you need to something unexpected - drop the problem - and turn to whatever stimulates your imagination and emotions. 

Also read my earlier blog on Archimedes', Newton's and Einstein's idea incubation process -

Step #4. Illumination - Eureka - The Idea will appear, as if out of nowhere. At the least expected moment as when you are shaving, bathing etc. The Idea comes after you have stopped straining for it, when you are relaxed and rested. Archimedes got his idea as he was getting into his bathtub.

Step #5. Strengthening - Now the Idea is ready for judgement - submit the Idea to an expert. A good idea has the intrinsic quality to expand on its own - it stimulates those who see it to add to it - other possibilities (that you might have overlooked) will come to light.

Further Reading:

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