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


One day in my last year as an advertising agency executive in Chicago I had a telephone call from the western advertising manager of a well-known magazine. He asked if he could see me immediately on a matter of importance. Shortly thereafter he arrived in my office, somewhat out of breath. "We are having a meeting today," he said, "of our entire western sales staff. Its purpose is to discuss how we can improve our selling. "In our discussions we have tried to analyze the selling methods of other successful publications and salesmen. And among these we have been particularly impressed by the success of Mr. Kobler in his selling of the American Weekly.” "After studying just how he is so successful we have come to the conclusion that it all rest just one thing: he doesn't sell space: he sells Ideas.” "And so," he continued, with enthusiasm, "we have decided that that is just. what we are going to, do. From here oil We are not going to sell spa at all. Beginning tomorrow morning every single one of us is going to sell Ideas!" I said I thought that was just dandy, but wondered what it was that he wanted to discuss with me. “Well," he said; somewhat ruefully "we could see that what we ought to do is to sell ideas, all right. But that is where we sort of got stuck. "What we are not clear about is just how to get ideas. "So I said maybe you could tell us, and that is what I am here for. "You have produced a lot of advertising ideas. Just how do you get them? The boys are waiting for me to come back and tell them." Now I know that if I had not been so flattered by this question, and if my questioner had not been so obviously serious in asking it, I would have had a hearty fit of laughing at this point. I thought at the time that I had never heard a funnier or more naive question. And I was completely unable to give any helpful answer to it. But it struck me afterward that maybe the question "How do you get ideas?" wasn't as silly as it sounded. Maybe there was some answer to it. And off and on I thought about it.