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, we all know men of whom we have said: "He never had an idea in his life." That saying brings us face to face with the first real question about this subject. Even assuming that there may be a technique for producing ideas, is everybody capable of using it? Or is there, in addition, some special ability for producing ideas which, after all, you must be born with-like a color sense or tone sense, or card sense? One answer to that question is suggested in the work Mind and Society, by the great Italian sociologist, Pareto. Pareto thought that all the world could be divided into two main types of people. These types he called, the the French, which he wrote, the, speculator and the rentier. In this classification speculator is a term used somewhat in the sense our word "speculative." The speculator is the speculative type of person. And the distinguishing characteristic of type, according to Pareto, is that he is constantly pre-occupied with the possibilities of new combinations. Please hold that italicized definition in mind, because we shall return to it later. Note particularly the word: pre-occupied, with its brooding duality. Pareto includes among the, persons, of this speculative type not only the business enterprisers – those who deal with financial and business schemes-but those engaged with inventions of every sort, and with what he calls "political and diplomatic reconstructions." In short, the type includes all those persons in any field who (like our Mr. Roosevelt) can not let well enough alone, and who speculate on how to change it. The term used by Pareto to describe the other type, the rentier, is translated into English as the stockholder-though he sounds more like the bag holder to me. Such people, he says, are the routine, steady-going, unimaginative, conserving people, whom the speculator manipulates. Whatever we may think of the adequacy of this theory of Pareto's as an entire explanation of social groups, I think we all recognize that these two types of human beings do exist. Whether they were born that way, or whether their environment and training made them that way, is beside the point. They are. This being the case I suppose, it must be true that there are large numbers of people whom no technique for producing ideas will ever help. But it seems to me that the important point for our purpose is that the speculators, or reconstructors of this world, are a very large group. Theirs at least the inherent capacity to produce ideas, and it is by no means such a rare capacity. And so, while perhaps not all God's chilluns got wings, enough have for each of us to hope that we may be among those that have. At, any rate, I propose to assume that if a man (or woman) is at all fascinated by advertising it is probably because he is among the reconstructors of this world. Therefore he has some creative powers; and these powers, like others, may be increased by making a deliberate effort to do so, and by mastering a technique for their better use.