What’s the Idea?

Where do ideas come from? That’s another thing we talk about in The Workroom.

Maira Kalman, an illustrator and author I admire, describes the initial process: “Through visits to museums/sites/institutions, reading, research, sketching, note taking, photo taking, and a general three-week immersion, I find my way to a story.” Such a brief statement – and such an important concept – to allow all that gathering time and activity before beginning.

Rather than actually doing one’s work (but better than surfing for news of Cate and Will), Maria Popova’s website “Brain Pickings” is a highly recommended but dangerous rabbit hole for reading about how creativity happens.

There I discovered James Webb Young’s little booklet, “A Guide to Producing Ideas” originally  written in 1940 for graduate students and active advertising practitioners. I guess we have to think Don Draper, but his ideas resonate for any person desiring to think creatively. The booklet is slim and well worth the $6.26 on Amazon ($4.40 Kindle).

Young’s sections reflect acknowledged steps in the creative process: preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification. It makes encouraging reading, particularly about the gathering stage. Toward the end, Young briefly restates his five-step formula for the “process or method by which ideas are produced”:

First, the gathering of raw materials – both the materials of your immediate problem and the materials which come from a constant enrichment of your store of general knowledge.

Second, working over these materials in your mind.

Third, the incubating stage, where you let something beside the conscious mind do the work of synthesis.

Fourth, the actual birth of the Idea – the ‘Eureka! I have it!’ stage

Fifth, the final shaping and development of the idea to practical usefulness.”

But – it’s not just the idea we need – Hugo Lindgren) wrote about what else we need in a New York Times Magazine article last January (here). He says: “Ideas, in a sense, are overrated. Of course you need good ones, but at this point in our supersaturated culture, precious few are so novel that nobody else has ever thought of them before. It’s really about where you take the idea, and how committed you are to solving the endless problems that come up in the execution.”

Solving those endless problems – that’s the fun of The Workroom!

Work sign  ©Katy Gilmore  2013

5 thoughts on “What’s the Idea?

    • Thanks Cynthia – and it is just a little related to your beautiful corn post this morning in Words & Images – just corn waiting in the crisper till you had the idea! Katy

  1. I want that little “Back to Work” sign hanging over my desk.
    I often think “creativity” is another word for problem solving. Creative people seem to see problems where another person might see nothing. One person might look at that frog and see a frog, but the artist wants to figure out what else it might mean and how they might possibly connect it to working, or list making, or the letters in “back to work.” It is, as you say, all about problem solving, and knowing that the eureka moment will arrive eventually if you give it enough space.
    Good post! Thanks, Katy.

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