There are two kinds of people according to James Webb Young who quotes Pareto. The speculator and the rentier. Speculators are constantly preoccupied with the possibilities of new combinations. Whereas, rentiers “the stockholders” are the routine, steady going, unimaginative, conserving people, whom the speculator manipulates.
Perhaps I’m more optimistic. I believe we are all speculators. True, some of us have honed this skill better than others. Maybe Seth Godin does a better job of describing these two kinds of people. Thrill seekers and fear avoiders. Whichever category you fall into, there is a technique that can help you produce ideas. It's all in James Webb Young's book first published in 1940.
James Webb Young says, "an idea is nothing more nor less than a new combination of old elements.” I think this is what Seth Godin calls a mashup. Whatever you want to call it, James say, "the capacity to bring old elements into new combinations depends largely on the ability to see relationships... And the habit of mind, which leads to a search for relationships between facts, becomes of the highest importance in the production of ideas."
The five step technique:
- Gather raw material for the mind. Both specific and general. Put each fact or unique idea on a separate 3 by 5 card.
- Bring two facts together and see how they fit. You’re seeking the relationship, a synthesis where everything will come together in a new combination like a jigsaw puzzle. It’s important to write everything down including the partially formed ideas.
- Put the problem out of your mind.
- Then, out of nowhere an idea will appear. Usually when you least expect it.
- Submit your idea to the criticism of the judicious. A good idea has self-expanding qualities.