A Technique for Producing Ideas – James Webb Young

The one-sentence summary

Gather both general and specific materials, ponder on the issue, then do something completely different for a while, and a decent idea will arrive.


· Originally produced in 1965, this short book was arguably the first to attempt to explain how to generate an idea, and lift the veil of mystery from the creative process.

· The author claims that the production of ideas is an operative technique – exactly the same as producing products on an assembly line.

· As such, it can be learned, controlled and practiced in exactly the same way.

· The Italian sociologist Pareto (who wrote in French) thought that the world could be divided into two types of people:

1. The speculator – speculative, constantly preoccupied with the possibilities of new combinations.

2. The rentier – the stockholder – routine, steady-going, unimaginative, conservative.

· Nevertheless, even the conservative mind can be trained in the method by which ideas are produced. Here it is:

1. Gather raw materials – there are two types; those specific to the issue in hand, and those that are general. (The latter should be collected all the time. This so-called fugitive material eventually finds its use when later combined with a specific need).

2. Mental digestion – work over materials in the mind.

3. Incubation – do something else while the idea synthesises.

4. Eureka moment – the idea will appear apparently out of nowhere.

5. Shaping – development to practical usefulness.


· Two general principles make good sense:

1. Ideas are merely new combinations.

2. An ability to see new combinations is heightened by an ability to see relationships.

· That’s why it pays to be a mental magpie – constantly on the lookout interesting things that may be of value later.

· You can read this in twenty minutes and understand what to do.


· Not much. It’s a discussion point, but one could argue that, even after reading this, a so-called ‘uncreative’ person could still fail to have a decent idea.

Flow – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

The one-sentence summary
Understanding the concept of flow helps people to live in better harmony with themselves and others.


• This is the classic work on how to achieve happiness by the near-unpronounceable Drucker School of Management professor.
• He was the first to articulate the concept of flow – the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.
• The phenomenology (dealing directly with events as we experience them) of enjoyment has 8 major components:
1. A challenging activity that requires skills (we must have a chance of completing it)
2. The merging of action and awareness (we must be able to concentrate)
3. Clear goals (we need to be clear what we are doing…)
4. Immediate feedback (…and see immediate progress)
5. Concentration on the task at hand (effortless involvement removed from everyday worries and frustrations)
6. The paradox of control (a sense of control, even if you are not quite sure how you are doing it)
7. The loss of self-consciousness (concern for the self disappears, but the person emerges stronger after the experience)
8. The transformation of time (hours can pass by in minutes, or minutes can stretch out to seem like hours)
• All of this adds up to an autotelic experience (auto = self and telos = goal) – a self-contained activity that has no expectation of future benefit, in which the doing of it is the reward in itself.


• The autotelic self is a happy person. They are able to:
1. Set goals – have something to strive for.
2. Become immersed in the activity – get lost in it.
3. Pay attention to what is happening – be ‘present’ in the here and now.
4. Learn to enjoy the immediate experience – rather than hanker after something else.
• The brain can cope with 126 bits of information a second, 7,560 per minute, or half a million an hour.
• Being in flow helps to counteract psychic entropy, a disorganisation of the self (one’s thoughts) that impairs mental effectiveness. Flow is sometimes therefore called negentropy.
• Man has often used games for this very purpose: agon (competitive, such as sports); alea (games of chance, such as dice or bingo); ilinx (altering consciousness, such as skydiving); mimicry (dance, theatre).
Intrinsic work is good because you do it for the love of it; extrinsic work usually has an ulterior motive, such as promotion, and is usually less satisfying.


• Not much. You can extract the bits you need to have a better-balanced life.

The Age Of Unreason – Charles Handy

The one-sentence summary

We will not survive unless we actively respond to the radical way our world is changing.


  • The world is changing fast, and we need to change with it. The numbers prove it, and companies and governments need to acknowledge this and think differently.
  • Words are heralds of social change –by watching the way language changes, we can spot the linguistic signposts of change.
  • We work for 100,000 hours in our lives, but there are many different ways to divide this up.
  • Negative capability is the ability to make mistakes and learn from them.
  • Upside down thinking can make you view work as the best of the four-letter words. It doesn’t have to be as it currently is.
  • Portfolio man has five types of work:

1.     Wage work: money paid for time given

2.    Fee work: money paid for results delivered

3.    Homework: all the tasks that make a home function

4.    Gift work: work done for free outside home, such as charity work

5.     Study work: training and reading


“Work is much more fun than fun.” Noel Coward

  • Upside down thinking forces the reader to look at things differently.
  • There are many different types of intelligence, and all have value:

~ Analytical: the sort we measure in IQ tests

~ Pattern: musicians, mathematicians and computer programmers see these

~ Musical: can earn more money than conventional office skills

~ Physical: sportsmen

~ Practical: able to dismantle a television without naming the parts

~ Intra-personal: people who are in tune with others’ feelings

~ Inter-personal: the ability to get on with others

  • He pushes hard against “endemic group-think”, where everyone agrees with each other without thinking properly.


  • The book is now 20 years old so certain ideas have been overtaken by events.

Making It Happen – John Harvey-Jones

The one-sentence summary

Making it happen is the most important part of any idea, and the prime management problem in any company.


  • Management is ultimately about people. It is an art, not a science. The artistry lies in the combination of skills, perceptions, intuitions, and combined experiences which are continually different and almost invariably unique. There are two types of manager:
  • The Thoughtful Manager, who is continually adding to skills and considering changes in the art form
  • The Closed Mind Manager, who attempts continuously to replicate successful solutions in situations which are, almost invariably, totally different.
  • There is no area of activity in the UK that does not badly need an improvement in managerial skill.
  • Tasks don’t get done without the commitment of those who have to execute it. Making it happen is the most important part of any idea, and the prime management problem in any company.


  • The author worked for ICI for thirty years, and became one of the great management gurus. The book is not a manual or a prescriptive description of the only ways in which things can be done. It is based on personal experience.
  • Setting the direction is important, but how it is going to get done matters more. The people need to be ‘switched on’, and ownership of the strategic objective must be transferred to those who are to enact it – the power of good delegation. Ordering people around doesn’t work well.
  • Management is about change, and maintaining a high rate of change. Without change nothing is possible. Whether comfortable or not, it is inevitable. The UK has a particular love of the old and a seeming contempt for the new.
  • Values and beliefs in a company cannot be created out of thin air. Unless they are real, and permeate everything that is done, they will not have any effect. If they cease to be relevant they must either be abandoned or adapted to be applicable to the future.
  • He predicted that the future of the organisation would have to adapt to the needs of the individual, rather than the other way round. This would release energies, creativity and imagination of a different order from before. This prediction appears to be right.


  • Being over twenty years old, a lot has happened since. There are no sections, charts or diagrams, so this more like reading a novel.

Good To Great – Jim Collins

The one-sentence summary

Ignore charismatic leaders, complex strategies and the competition – if you want enduring success, concentrate on having a common sense of purpose.




  • It is the sequel to the 1994 classic about the successful habits of companies.
  • It uses a 5-year research study to work out how companies can migrate from being merely good to being great. By the time the author had finished, he wondered whether it should in fact have been the prequel.
  • Level 5 leaders build enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.
  • Of particular note are the ‘dogs that didn’t bark’, factors that do not play a role in taking a company from good to great, including:

    ~ Larger than life celebrity leaders

    ~ High executive pay

    ~ Strategy (all companies claim to have one)

    ~ Technology (it can only accelerate change, not instigate it)

    ~ Mergers and acquisitions

    ~ Transformation programmes or themes

    ~ Sexy sectors or industries




  • Although this book has taken on revered status, much of it remains helpful and relevant. You can try to apply the principles:

    ~ First who…then what. Get the right people on the bus, then decide where to drive it

    ~ Confront the brutal facts (yet never lose faith). Work out what you are good at, and do that. Work out what you are bad at, and don’t do that.

    ~ The hedgehog concept. The hedgehog does one thing well (curling into a ball) whilst the fox rushes around, creating the impression of speed

    ~ Culture of discipline. When you have one, you don’t need hierarchy

    ~ Technology accelerators. These are never the origin of greatness, merely enhancers of it

    ~ The flywheel and the doomloop. Moves to greatness all happen gradually – there is no miracle moment




  • The evidence per company is highly detailed, so if you do not know the company (they are all American) or are not interested in it, then you have to wade through for the bits you want
  • If you read The Halo Effect, you may think the whole study is rubbish