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How to Produce Ideas

Producing ideas is an important process of creating something new (e.g., business, product, software, article), but its methodology is not trivial. On that point, I strongly believe that collecting more information and experiences is a key as follows.

Seeds of Ideas

First of all, I have just read James Young's book "A Technique for Producing Ideas" which introduces five essential steps to strategically produce ideas, and he stated that gathering raw material comes first:

  1. Gathering raw material
  2. Finding out a relationship between them
  3. Staying away from the problem, like fermentation
  4. An idea (unexpectedly) comes up in your mind
  5. Implementing the idea, and evaluating its effectiveness

Here, raw material includes a wide variety of experiences in our life, tons of news articles and knowledge about art and history we can access both online and offline, and specific knowledge corresponding to your problem and customers. All of these inputs could eventually be the seeds of new ideas.

Since a new idea is normally a combination of existing pieces of experiences, knowledge, products, and someone else's ideas, proactively gathering the seeds is highly valuable to make great ideas.

Capture the Complex World "As Is"

Second, while an idea itself and resulting output must be simple and easy to understand, collecting raw, complex information from diverse data sources and experiences is an essential first step of any creative activities.

According to a magazine that shows an interview series of Japanese famous branding designers, the professionals equally emphasized that the quantity and quality of inputs collected from newspapers, magazines, and the internet are highly important before taking action on their problems.

The reason is related to the goal of branding design that helps clients to visualize their vision and underlying history. If we do not know anything about the clients and the historical background of their problem, we have no way to build a story that effectively tells their thoughts. Hence, innovative work first requires us to accurately capture the world as is through rich inputs, so that we can build an appropriate solution to a specific problem; that is, more input gives a better shape of your problem, and it leads to high-quality ideas and deliverables.

Bottom Line

From the minimal book and short interview series, I learned one important fact that gives a solution to an ambiguous question: How can we produce ideas? For the reasons that I listed above, the point is to collect as much information and experiences as possible in our daily life, and the inputs finally become the seeds of new ideas.

Recently, I exercised "digital minimalism" by minimizing time spent on social networks and using only one or two carefully selected sources of news and media contents. However, while it makes me more mentally healthy, the book told me that less interaction with such external stimuli is not ideal for continuously producing ideas and being creative. Therefore, I feel it's time to rethink the way of gathering information.



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  See also

Language as a Design Tool
The Hardest Part of 2020's Strategic Ideation
Design Thinking = Capturing the World Like a Designer


  Author: Takuya Kitazawa

Takuya Kitazawa is a sustainability-conscious product developer, minimalistic traveler, ultralight hiker & runner, and craft beer enthusiast. Throughout my career, I have practically worked as a full-stack software engineer, OSS developer, technical evangelist, sales engineer, data scientist, machine learning engineer, and product manager.

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Opinions are my own and do not represent the views of organizations I am/was belonging to.

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