Your problem has already been solved
“Every problem has a solution.”
The Cigarette Smoking Man, X-Files
Both SCAMPER and the 40 Principles begin with the premise that with sufficient abstraction the problem you face can be described in a way that parallels another problem that has already been solved, making the solution evident. This post attempts to connect SCAMPER and the 40 Principles in a way that takes advantage of both their strengths.
Sometimes looking for extreme possibilities makes you blind to the probable explanation right in front of you.
Special Agent Dana Scully, X-Files
The 40 Principles of Inventive Problem Solving are conceived with the intention of cataloging the ideas behind all patentable innovation. The Principles are a component of TRIZ (Theory of Inventive Problem Solving).
Another TRIZ tool, the Contradiction Matrix (discussed here), proposes to direct the idea seeker to a handful of likely Principles to use given a problem and its tradeoffs, e.g. a bulletproof vest is either ineffective or heavy.
Adherents to TRIZ and the 40 Principles present the Contradiction Matrix as a scientific method. They say that brainstorming is a wasteful scattershot approach, whereas a skillful TRIZ practitioner can target a small number of useful solutions.
Unfortunately, the 40 Principles are a lot to learn and some are quite arcane, for example Principle 12 – Equipotentiality. As well, the Contradiction Matrix requires a thorough understanding of each of the 40 Principles and the concept of contradiction and 39 technical parameters.
The goal of this blog and my study of innovation is to find ways to get over doubt and roadblocks so that idea generation can be approachable and fun. That makes an alternative to TRIZ called the SCAMPER Technique of interest.
“Whatever happened to playing a hunch, Scully? The element of surprise, random acts of unpredictability? If we fail to anticipate the unforeseen or expect the unexpected in a universe of infinite possibilities, we may find ourselves at the mercy of anyone or anything that cannot be programmed, categorized or easily referenced.”
Special Agent Fox Mulder, X-Files
In his 1953 book titled Applied Imagination, author Alex Osborn focuses on how a problem can be reframed to make the solution evident, using approaches which he called “hunting fields”.
Bob Eberle summarized these approaches in a handy mnemonic in his book SCAMPER: Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put to another use, Eliminate, Reverse.
SCAMPER’s mnemonic makes it handy to use right away, but it appears to me to be less rigorous than the 40 Principles – derived as it is from the instincts and experiences of its authors.
The truth is in there
Mulder, are you suggesting that…
SCAMPER is derived from what Osborn described as, “… a summary of some of the kinds of self-interrogation that can lead to ideas” (emphasis mine). If SCAMPER only represents a subset of the kinds of self-interrogation that can lead to ideas, then we are free to add more.
If we nestle all the Principles under the mnemonic letters of SCAMPER then a person or team examining a problem can go as shallow or as deep as they wish – starting with SCAMPER’s top level of “hunting fields” and delving into the 40 Principles underneath – if time allows and motivation remains.
Can the Principles be integrated into SCAMPER? That’s my next few posts.