An idea is nothing more nor less than a new combination of old elements. The capacity to bring old elements into new combinations depends largely on the ability to see relationships.
The principle of constantly expanding your experience, both personally and vicariously, does matter tremendously in any idea-producing job.
The technique follows five steps. By no possibility can one of them be taken before the preceding one is completed, if an idea is to be produced.
Gather raw materials--both the materials of your immediate problem and the materials which come from a constant enrichment of your store of general knowledge. In advertising an idea results from a new combination of specific knowledge about products and people with general knowledge about life and events.
The mental digestive process. What you are seeking now is the relationship, a synthesis where everything will come together in a neat combination, like a jig-saw puzzle.
The incubating stage. In this stage you make absolutely no effort of a direct nature. You drop the whole subject and put the problem out of your mind as completely as you can. Turn to whatever stimulates your imagination and emotions. Listen to music, go to the theater or movies, read poetry or a detective story.
Out of nowhere the Idea will appear. It will come to you when you are least expecting it--while shaving, or bathing, or most often when you are half awake in the morning. It may waken you in the middle of the night.
The fifth stage might be called the cold, gray dawn of the morning after. In this stage you have to take your little newborn idea out into the world of reality. And when you do you usually find that it is not quite the marvelous child it seemed when you first gave birth to it. It requires a deal of patient working over to make most ideas fit the exact conditions, or the practical exigencies, under which they must work. Do not make the mistake of holding your idea close to your chest at this stage. Submit it to the criticism of the judicious. When you do, a surprising thing will happen. You will find that a good idea has, as it were, self-expanding qualities. It stimulates those who see it to add to it. Thus possibilities in it which you have overlooked will come to light.