According to a 2014 PwC report into breakthrough innovation and growth, 43% of 1,757 executives interviewed saw innovation as a ‘competitive necessity’ for their organisation.

Who drives this innovation? Aside from the tech wiz kids, it’s the individuals and teams with the ability to think creatively. The benefits of creative thinking for businesses are well-known: enhanced productivity, innovation and growth. Demand for creative thinkers in every sector reflects their importance. But what are the processes behind creative thinking and idea generation?

A great little book I stumbled upon in the office, James Webb Young’s A Technique for Producing Ideas, claims the production of ideas is just as definite a process as the production of Ford cars. Written over 70 years ago in the Mad Men-era of Manhattan advertising, the book still resonates today and provides some valuable insights (despite its questionably sexist undertones).

Young states the two general principles of idea production are:

i. It’s nothing more nor less than a combination of elements
ii. This depends on the ability to see relationships.

We all, therefore, have the potential to think creatively and generate ideas.

Young then puts forward his 5-step method for idea production:

1. Gather raw materials and note them down
2. “Masticate” these materials by viewing them from different angles, trying to bring them together in synthesis
3. “Digest” the subject by distancing oneself
4. Experience the “Eureka!” moment where the idea will appear
5. Develop that idea into something practical and useful.


So, what can we take from this?

The first step, gathering the raw materials, marks the start of an idea and the most important aspect of creative thinking – getting the ball rolling. Even for just 10 minutes every day, setting aside time to getting thoughts on to paper helps visualise ideas and provide coherence to thought processes. A fantastic idea would have started as a vague one that’s been fine-tuned over time. Getting into the habit of noting down observations, inspirations and ideas in a journal provides an encyclopaedia of passing thoughts, one of which could be your most successful.

The second step to Young’s method, mastication, can be done by an individual. An easier way to chew the fat, viewing an idea from different angles, is collaboration. If you’re lucky enough to have just one other person to bounce ideas around with, you’ve got double the chance of creating an innovative solution to any given problem! Affording a non-judgemental space to brainstorm ideas can be an enjoyable, productive and relationship strengthening experience.

With 78% of the most innovative companies managing innovation efforts in a formal way, creative thinkers are in high demand. This in mind, it’s easy to see the worth of getting back to basics and understanding the process behind where ideas come from.

The next step to generating ideas, of course, is implementation – so go ahead and test them out!

Photo by Jaskier Flickr/CC BY 2.0