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


An idea, I thought, has some of that mysterious quality which romance lends to tales of the sudden appearance of islands in the South Seas. There, according to ancient mariners, in spots where the charts showed only deep blue sea-there would suddenly appear a lovely atoll above the surface of the waters. An air of magic hung about it. And so it is, I thought, with Ideas. They appear just as suddenly above the surface of the mind; 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. And so I asked myself: " an idea; too, like this? Is it only, the final result of a long series of unseen idea-building processes which go on beneath 'the surface of the conscious mind? "If so, can these processes be identified, so that they can consciously be followed and utilized? In short, can a formula or technique be developed in answer to the question: How do you get ideas?" What I now propose to you is the result of a longtime pondering of these questions; and of close observation of the work of idea-producing men with whom I have had associations. This has brought me to the conclusion that the production of ideas is as definite a process as the production of Fords; that the production of ideas, too, runs on an assembly line; that in this production the mind follows an operative technique which can be learned and controlled; and that its effective use is just as much a matter of practice in the technique as is the effective use of any tool. If you ask me why I am willing to give away the valuable formula of this discovery I will confide to you that experience has taught me two things about it: First, the formula is so simple to state that few who hear it really believe in it. Second, while simple to state, it actually requires the hardest kind of intellectual work to follow, so that not all who accept it use it. Thus I broadcast this formula with no real fear of glutting the market in which I make my living.