One of the best ways to generate ideas—whether it’s to create something new, find a solution to a problem that you’re having, or just bring more creativity into your everyday life—is to use creativity techniques.
SCAMPER is one of the most powerful creativity techniques out there. It’s based on the notion that everything new is a modification of something that already exists. The technique—which is attributed to Bob Eberle– consists of a set of directed questions (or you can think of it as an idea spurring checklist). By answering these questions with your particular problem or situation in mind, you’ll be generating new ideas.
SCAMPER is an acronym for the following:
- S – Substitute
- C – Combine
- A – Adapt
- M – Modify (or Magnify)
- P – Put to Other Uses
- E – Eliminate (or Minimize)
- R – Rearrange (or Reverse)
Each of these elements is explained, in detail, below.
SCAMPER – Substitute
The first step is to ask yourself if there’s any aspect about the problem or the situation that you’re facing for which you can find a substitute. Anything is subject to being substituted: parts of a product, steps in a process, the place, the people, and so on. Substitution is a trial-and error method of replacing one thing with another until you find the right idea.
Instead of just asking yourself: “What can I substitute?”, you can also ask yourself questions such as the following:
- Can I replace or change any parts?
- What can I replace with something better?
- Who can I use instead?
- What can be used instead?
- Is there another approach?
- Can the rules be changed?
- Can I use other ingredients or materials?
- Can I use other processes or procedures?
- Can I use a different source of energy?
- What if I change its name?
- Can I substitute one part for another?
- Can I substitute the time?
- Can I change my feelings or attitude towards the problem or the situation?
- What else instead?
- Can you substitute a part with an inexpensive alternative?
SCAMPER – Combine
The second step is to think about combining two or more elements of the problem or the situation that you’re facing in order to come up with something new. As many creativity experts hold, creativity is just about combining things that already exist in a new way. Here are some questions you can ask yourself in order to start thinking about how to combine two or more parts of your problem or opportunity to enhance synergy:
- Can I combine this product with another to create something new?
- Can I combine the purposes of the different parts?
- What can be combined to maximize the number of uses?
- What materials could be combined?
- How can I combine talents and resources to create a new approach to this product?
- What can I bring together?
- Can I package a combination?
- Can I combine tasks?
- How about an assortment?
- Can I make it multifunctional (think of the Swiss army knife)?
SCAMPER – Adapt
- Is there something similar to it, but in a different context?
- What’s like this?
- What lessons have I learned in the past which I can apply to this situation?
- What could I copy, borrow, or steal?
- Whom could I emulate?
- What processes can be adapted?
- What ideas outside my field can I incorporate?
- What else can be adapted?
- Can I adapt another product to fit my needs?
- What are other people doing to solve this problem? Can I do the same?
- What could be adapted to suit my purpose?
SCAMPER – Modify or Magnify
- What can be magnified or made larger?
- What can be exaggerated or overstated?
- What can be duplicated?
- What can be made higher, bigger or stronger?
- Can I increase its frequency?
- How can I modify the process?
- How can I take this to an extreme?
- Is there a new twist?
- Can I change the color, the shape, the smell, or the sound?
- What other form could this take?
- Can I increase the price by adding more value?
- Can I give it a different meaning?
- How can this be altered for the better?
SCAMPER – Put to Other Uses
- What else can it be used for?
- Can it be used by people other than those it was originally intended for?
- Who else might be able to use this? How would they use it?
- Could children use this? How?
- Can it be used in a different context?
- Is there a different problem out there that this could be a solution for?
- If I knew nothing about it, would I figure out the purpose of this idea?
- Can I use this idea in other markets or industries?
- Can I use this idea in a different place?
SCAMPER – Eliminate or Minimize
- What can be eliminated?
- Can you eliminate extraneous details?
- How can I simplify it?
- What parts can be removed without altering its function?
- What’s non-essential or unnecessary?
- What features can I take out?
- Should I split it into different parts?
- Can I narrow it down to its core functions?
- Can I lower the price by taking something out?
- What can be made smaller or minimized?
- How can it be made more compact?
- Can I decrease the frequency?
- How can this be streamlined?
- Can this be made into a miniature?
- Can this be condensed?
- Can I make it lighter?
- How can cost, time, or effort be minimized?
- Can waste be minimized?
- Can you make it portable?
- What’s not necessary?
- What could you do without?
SCAMPER – Rearrange or Reverse
- What if I reverse the process?
- What if I did it the other way around?
- What if I turn it upside down?
- What if I were to use a different sequence?
- Can I transpose positives and negatives?
- What if I consider it backwards?
- What if I try doing the exact opposite of what I originally intended?
- How would I achieve the opposite effect?
- How can I reverse roles?
Ask yourself each of the questions above for your problem or situation and generate as many ideas as you possibly can. Many of the ideas that you come up with won’t be viable, but that’s fine. When you’re generating ideas by using the questions above, don’t stop to judge or criticize. Once you’re done generating ideas the final step is to look through them and determine which ones deserve further exploration.
You can use SCAMPER to generate ideas for anything:
- Get ideas for a book you’re writing.
- Come up with ways to generate more revenue from an existing product.
- Find new, creative uses for an existing product.
- Look for ways to improve an existing service.
- Find ways to improve a marketing campaign.
- Take a current social or political problem and come up with a list of possible solutions.
- Apply SCAMPER to get ideas for blog posts.
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