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Let's Barn Raise Some Ideas

”How do you get ideas Bob?”

If you’re a writer, you’re asked this question - a lot. It’s the same for graphic designers, advertising folks, copywriters and content marketing people.


Why don’t HVAC and Plumbing owners hear this question more often?

Probably because people figure you just sell, fix and maintain stuff, why should you need to generate ideas?

Ever hear this: “We desperately need installers and service techs, any idea where to find them?”

James Webb Young was an early 20th century ad man who later went on to become a professor at the University of Chicago Business School.

Towards the end of Young’s advertising career he was asked to help a company produce ideas. He came up with a process that evolved into his book, A Technique for Producing Ideas. Even before the book however, Young gave away this process freely. When asked why would he give this intel to his competitors he replied,

“...the formula is so simple to state that few who hear it really believe in in it.”



“...it requires the hardest kind of intellectual work to follow, so that not all who accept it use it.”

Basically what Young said was the same thing that confounds consultants and coaches in our professions today; their clients and students don’t implement lessons.

Get More Great Ideas

A process, a technique, a crop

James Webb Young believed that ideas do not suddenly pop out of the air, just as corn does not suddenly pop out of the ground. It takes sun, water, fertilizer and work. All of these ingredients go into a process that when applied, allows ideas to surface. His book discusses the ingredients.


A combination of old elements

The ability to bring old elements into new combinations relies on one’s ability to see relationships between facts. It’s important to continuously search for these relationships. For those determined to produce ideas it becomes a mindset. Think about your favorite writers. Do they write of experiences and then relate them to business lessons? This demonstrates the ability to see these relationships.


Social science treasures

For the advertising man to develop this mindset, Young encouraged a study of the social sciences. If you deal with people, you’d be hard pressed to find a better treasure chest yourself from which to cultivate.


Young’s 5-Step TechniqueJames Webb Young.jpg

  1. Gather raw material
  2. Digest the material
  3. Allow material to incubate by doing something else
  4. Your idea appears
  5. Launch your idea into the world


It takes work

Young’s book covers these five steps. Irony: note the url in this free version of his book. Young believed that the first step was the most important. Build a reservoir of material from which to draw upon. I believe the lubricant to the ease of step one is curiosity. A hungry and curious mind drives the process.

What are the odds that you’ll take the time to build such a process? To be real they’re the same as those who actually implement lessons taught by consultants and coaches.


Your company needs ideas. Here’s a challenge

This book costs a little over six bucks at Amazon. Buy copies of it for your team. (It’s too cheap of you to pass along the free version). Encourage but don’t make them read it. For the small percentage of your team who reads it, help them to amass a reservoir of material. 

  • Send them on field trips
  • Buy them a magazine subscription
  • Buy them one book per month (I would have lost my mind if someone had done this for me)
  • Send them to a class on photography
  • Send them to a makerspace
  • Create a makerspace and charge outsiders a subscription
  • Establish a business Junto in your community

Encourage other types of business owners to do the same thing.

Conduct regularly scheduled sessions for your coworkers to talk about their ideas. Conduct sessions that include the folks who work for owners outside of your industry to meet with your people.

In the quest to build a reservoir of material, diversity is key. Whether it’s in people, knowledge and or ideas, encourage your coworkers to seek diversity.


What do you think? Does your company thirst for new ideas? Give James Webb Young’s idea a serious go. Perhaps someone will generate new ideas for recruiting and hiring. What would that be worth to you?

Topics: Business Design

Posted by Dave Rothacker on Feb 19, 2017 5:05:00 AM

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