It’s Not A Dark Art: How Coming Up with New Ideas Can Be Understood and Learned (Part 2)

In my previous post, I discussed different types of ideas, why it’s good to know the type of idea you’re working with and a few things I do to make creating ideas easier. In this post I explore a process for generating ideas that you can adapt for yourself.
There are quite a few different processes you can follow or modify to help you come up with new ideas. In the 1940s, James Webb Young developed a popular creative development process while he was working in an advertising agency. Young identified five stages in his creative thinking process, below I have outlined how it helps me to produce ideas:

Stage 1: Immersion

This is my research stage. I locate all the information I can get my hands on. I try to engage with as much data as I can find both online and in real life. Even chatting with others about their impressions of a particular subject can be useful.

Stage 2: Digestion

At this stage, I am consciously trying to make sense of what I know. I reflect on the data, noting down points of interest, any unusual aspects or whether abstract ideas can be connected in some way. This often ends up as lists, diagrams and frameworks.

Stage 3: Incubation

In this stage I step away from the data and let it simmer in the background of my mind. I focus on doing something else and give my thoughts time to mature. Don’t put pressure on yourself to immediately devise an idea, it adds unnecessary stress, which is your enemy at this stage.

Stage 4: Illumination

This is when I have the ‘Aha!’ moment. It usually occurs when I am relaxed, sometimes in the shower or just before I go to bed. I try to write it down with as much detail as quickly as I can in case I forget it.

Stage 5: Verification

This stage is my ‘sense-check’ stage. I run my idea past others for their opinion. I look for experts or people who will broadly understand the idea. They may be good thinkers or I admire their wisdom, or they view the world differently and can offer fresh insight. I trust their opinion and advice. After this stage, I decide whether to go ahead with the idea. If I give myself the green light, the hard work of operationalising the idea and bringing it to life begins.

Personally, I use Young’s guidelines as the basis of my ideas generation because it makes sense and gives me a roadmap for creative thinking and idea generation. At its core, the process still resonates today because of the practicality and breadth of where and how it can be applied. This process provides safety in the form of structure and helps me focus my attention as I go through each stage. Although a word of warning, I rarely produce instant results, and it can feel slow particularly when moving between the incubation and illumination stages. I find time helps my ideas to mature while adding pressure and stress doesn’t speed up the process. Ideas happen when they happen, yet somehow, I always make the deadline!

In closing, I would recommend you understand your own approach to idea generation. I encourage you to write your process down and accept its uniqueness. Seeing it on paper lends logic and structure to your thinking which leads to confidence and the realisation that you are an ‘ideas person’. Knowing what type of idea to generate, having key resources available and following a process helps me generate better ideas faster. I am no longer afraid of trying to come up with new ideas. I really would encourage you to reflect on your approach to idea generation and don’t forget to keep practicing, as the more practice you do, the easier it becomes. Have fun and enjoy the process of bringing new ideas to the world!

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