A Technique for Getting Ideas

By James Webb Young

Prefatory Note
How It Started
The Formula Of Experience
The Pareto Theory
Combining Old Elements
Ideas Are New Combinations
The Mental Digestive Process
"Constantly Thinking About It"
The Final Stage
Some After-Thoughts


Now, if you have really done your part in these three stages of the process you will almost surely experience the fourth. Out of nowhere the Idea will appear. It will come to you when you are least expecting it - while shaving, or bathing or most often when are half awake, in the morning. It may waken you in the middle of the night. Here, for instance, is the way it happens according to Mary Roberts Rinehart. In her story "Miss Pinkerton" she makes this character say:

"And it was while I was folding up that copy of the Eagle and, putting it away for later reading that something came into my mind. I have had this happen before; I can puzzle over a thing until I am in a state of utter confusion, giving it up, and then suddenly have the answer leap into my mind without an apparent reason.” And here again, in the way it happened in the discovery of the half-tone printing process, as told by Mr. Ives, the inventor of it: “While operating a photo stereotype process in Ithaca I studied the problem of half-tone process (first step.) I went to bed one night in a state of brain fag over the problem (end of the second and beginning of the third step) and the instant I woke in the morning (end of third step) saw before me,projected on the ceiling; the completely worked out process in operation.” (Fourth step) This is the way ideas come: after you have stopped straining for them, and have passed through a period of rest and relaxation from the search. Thus the story about Sir Isaac Newton and his discovery of the law of gravitation is probably not the whole truth. You will remember that when a lady asked the famous scientist how he came to make the discovery he is said to have replied, "By constantly thinking about it." It was by constantly thinking about it that he made the discovery possible. I suspect that if we knew the full history of the case we should find that the actual solution came while he was taking a walk in the country.