A Technique for Producing Ideas: A book review by Bob Morris

atechniqueforproducingideas1A Technique for Producing Ideas: The Simple, Five-Step Formula Anyone Can Use to Be More Creative in Business and in Life!
James Webb Young
Waking Lion Press (2009)

More, much more than a technique

This booklet (28 pages) was originally published in 1940 and some new material was added twenty years later. The Foreword to the edition I have (published by Waking Lion Press in 2009) was provided by William Bernbach (1911-1982), one-time chairman and CEO of what was Doyle Dane Bernbach, then renowned for creating many of the greatest ads in the 20th century. The booklet’s author, James Webb Young (1886-1973), added a “Prefatory Note” in 1960. His first publication, How To Become An Advertising Man (1963), focuses on core concepts that every ad practitioner and copywriter should know:

o Knowledge of Propositions
o Knowledge of Markets
o Knowledge of Messages
o Knowledge of Message Carriers
o Knowledge of Trade Channels
o Knowledge of How Advertising Works
o Knowledge of The Specific Situation

Today, these core concepts continue to provide the “basics” on which all effective marketing depends when attempting to create or increase demand for the given product and/or service and multi-media advertising is without doubt advertising’s most powerful resource. However, for the past 75 years, everything begins with a compelling idea.

In A Technique for Producing Ideas, Webb offers what he characterizes as a “simple, five-step formula anyone can use to be more creative in business and in life! ” Although the process itself is indeed simple, completing it to achieve the given results is a wholly different matter. Webb’s focus is on the process by which to generate ideas. “They appear just as suddenly above the surface of the mind [like a lovely atoll above the surface of a deep blue sea]; and with that same air of magic and unaccountability. But the scientist knows that the South Sea atoll is the work of countless, unseen coral builders, working below the surface of the sea.” Keep in mind that Webb developed or encountered this insight decades ago.

The details of the five-step “formula are best revealed in context, within the narrative. I will suggest now, however, that (a) this booklet is by no means relevant only to advertising or even to business in general, and (b) it can help almost anyone to develop more and better ideas when seeking a solution to a problem or an answer to a question. Because Webb thinks and writes so clearly, the booklet offers the additional benefit of helping its reader to reduce (if not eliminate) all the “clutter” in the mind that accumulates relentlessly over time.

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