SCAMPER is one of the most well-known brainstorm techniques.
The technique first appeared in Alex Osborn’s book Applied Imagination (1953). He outlined a series of challenge questions about a product or service to stimulate possible solutions, insights, perspectives or directions. The questions were grouped around a common active verb – such as Substitute or Adapt.
In the early 1990s, Bob Eberle, an author of books to increase creativity in children, simplified the original nine groups of questions into the clever anagram SCAMPER.
How To Use It
To begin the exercise, state the problem that is preventing the objective or outcome from being achieved.
Next, select any of the seven areas, and post questions to yourself – or to a team, as in a brainstorm – to challenge your thinking, inspire a new direction, and shape new ideas.
Here’s the original seven SCAMPER groups of questions.
S – Substitute
What else? Who else? Other people or roles? What other components, attributes, elements? Other materials or ingredients? Other approaches or steps? Other places? Other tone of voice or positioning?
C – Combine
Blending elements, assemblies or services? Combine ideas or purposes? Merge units? Forge a new ensemble or assortment? A new alloy?
A – Adapt
Change its function? What else is this like? What other idea does this suggest? What could I copy from someone else? Whom could I emulate? Does the past offer a parallel to the future? Is there a new twist?
M – Modify as in Maximize
What can I add? More time? Frequency? Can I make it stronger or faster? Longer, thicker, more value? Can I exaggerate it? Duplicate it? Multiply it?
Or, Modify as in Minimize
What I reduce? Can I condense it? Make it lower, shorter, lighter? Split-up or make understated? Can I change meaning, color, motion, sound, odor, form or shape?
P – Put to other uses
What new use does this have? If modified, what else will it do? If I put it in a new environment, industry, country, how would they use it? If I changed audiences, what would they do it with?
E – Eliminate
What can I streamline, omit or edit? What can be removed to make something entirely new, or just slightly different? What can I neutralize? What can be simplified? If reduced to its essential function, what’s left?
R – Rearrange
Can I interchange components? Can I re-order or reverse? How can I make them opposites? Turn the tables? Transpose cause and effect? Turn it inside out, upside down, right-side up?
Here’s a simple example of how SCAMPER might be used.
A friend of a friend of a friend in Sydney was opening up a bakery, and she offered me a free cupcake and coffee for an hour of brainstorming new flavours, types or styles of cupcakes to expand her business. (Brainstorming and dessert. Who could refuse?)
Here’s some of the ideas we brainstormed using SCAMPER.
Could she substitute the culture for a different one? Thai cupcakes? Greek cupcakes? Could she change the shape of the cupcakes? Triangles? Squares? (“Cupsquakes”?)
Could she combine dessert with an appetizer?
Make the cupcakes savoury, not sweet?
Could she make a recipe where the cupcakes could be suitable for salads?
Could she add alcohol or liquor?
Could she make a cupcake which was perfect for beer?
Could she sell or cross-promote them at the stores along the main street (especially to establish visibility as she was in a laneway, as well as drive traffic). For example, you’d get a free cupcake with a $50 dry cleaning bill. Can she make a mobile cupcake stand, set-up outside of a local college, the local train stop, or the nearby movie theatre?
Could she make tall cupcakes? Or really tiny cupcakes (made in thimbles)? Or the largest cupcake ever made in Australia?
Put to another use
There was a big dog park two blocks away. Could she make canine cupcakes? Could she make cupcakes to replace dinner rolls? Or to eat at breakfast?
Could she drop the calories? Make them flourless? Frosting-less? Paper-less?
Could she make upside-down cupcakes? Can you make inside-out cupcake, with the filling on the outside and the cake on the inside? Could she make cupcakes with the frosting on the inside?
SCAMPER is one of the most flexible and useful brainstorming tools. In the next few days, I’ll add some additional questions for each letter as additional help and support.
As always, let me know how you’ve used the exercise, or if you have any questions. Good luck!
You can read about other brainstorm techniques by visiting the category of Brainstorm Techniques, Games and Icebreakers.