Catalyze your inventive thinking with SCAMPER
Ideas are the building blocks of innovation. The key to generating your best ideas is to break the process into two steps. First there is divergence – coming up with a large number of ideas. Following that is convergence – narrowing those ideas down to something workable to try.
This process works at every step of innovation, from identifying your mission all the way down to deciding what to do to make that vision a reality.
Many find the task of gathering ideas for the divergence stage daunting. How am Isupposed to introduce new ideas when everything has already been done? Too many brainstorming sessions get dominated by early ideas and loud voices. Toward the end, brainstorming can feel like a chore with each idea you think of looking too much like earlier ones.
To get past that feeling, catalyze your thinking using SCAMPER, a set of seven powerful, proven idea generators.
Individuals and teams have been using SCAMPER to produce an abundance of ideas, both in quantity and variety, since the 1950s.
The word SCAMPER is an acronym that acts as a kind of checklist, with each letter introducing another approach to changing a product or service. Let’s look at each letter and drill down to the questions they provoke.
S is for SUBSTITUTE
The first catalyst is substitution. What can you substitute or swap to improve the service you provide?
Think about as many substitutions as possible. Materials, ingredients, people, places or things. What about the way things are done – methods and processes? What about colours, finishes, textures?
If you run a gardening service, could you substitute gas powered equipment with electric? Can you substitute Skype or Zoom calls for face-to-face consultation? Can you lower the cost to your client by providing part of your service with a virtual assistant? Can you substitute training or a book for in-person work?
C is for COMBINE
What do sporks and the clock-radio have in common? They are examples of the idea catalyst combination.
A Swiss army knife combines several tools including knives, saws, and even cutlery. Combination is the merging of multiple items into one structure, or multiple tasks into one system.
The clock-radio is a classic example of combination. Not only does it combine two functions that are useful at the bedside, using only one plug and taking up less room, but the merging allows a new feature – the radio as alarm.
The smart phone merges componentry and functions that would previously have been embodied in a radio, a TV, a still camera, a film camera, credit cards, a CD player etc, etc.
Are there strategic partnerships that would be beneficial? A family lawyer might partner with a grief counsellor or a financial specialist to help clients recover from divorce more easily. A nail salon could partner with a pet groomer – “Get your nails done at the same time as Fluffy at Paws”!
Can you combine two popular products into one? Can you combine ingredients or materials in a novel way? Can two features or functions be integrated into one product or service? Can you co-locate to save on rent and increase traffic?
A is for ADAPT
The A in SCAMPER is for adapt – adapting the characteristics or processes of other products and services into your own.
Can you look to other services and products for inspiration? Can you combine traits of them to your offering?
The first lightweight foldable baby strollers were inspired by retractable landing gear on planes.
If your customers line up, what type of queue do you have? Like at the deli where they get a number? The grocery store where they line up in multiple queues? Or the bank where there is one line for multiple tellers? Steal from the best.
Look at how different industries bill customers. Do you bill after and need to follow up for payment? Could you adapt the customary retail process of accepting payment up front? Or can you adapt the methods of seasonal businesses that bill up front for months in advance?
Ask yourself what other industries perform a similar service that you can imitate. Can you change your offering to adapt to new circumstances or technologies?
M is for MODIFY/MAGNIFY/MINIFY
The M in SCAMPER is for modify, magnify or minify.
Can you make something about your service bigger, more durable, higher or larger? What about providing your service more often? Can you exaggerate one quality of your service?
As a real estate agent can you focus only on properties over a million dollars? What if your focus instead is on staging the fixer upper?
Niche down. Instead of being an accountant for all – be an accountant for Youtubers, or expatriates from Ireland. Not just a flower shop – a chrysanthemum shop.
Can it be smaller or lighter? Can you sell your product or service in smaller portions? The grocery store can cut a melon in half and sell both halves for more than a whole melon – the price of convenience!
Can you provide the same service but in a different way? Instead of in person at your client’s site, could you have a home office, or work remotely.
Can you modify your schedule to suit a different clientele? Meet after normal office hours or off season?
P is for PUT TO ANOTHER USE
Can your product or service, or a component of it, be put to another use?
A solopreneur might find a way to reuse facilities or skills. The gardener might reuse the pickup truck to plough snow in the winter. The web designer might use the same computer for video editing.
Can a dessert be made into a seasonal or holiday treat? Who else might be interested to use a product or service than is typically buying it?
A home alarm system that was originally conceived of to prevent burglaries can serve as a personal rescue system alerting home occupants to fires or triggering an alert to emergency services if there is a health issue.
Can it be reused after its original use? Can its byproducts be used? Clothing fabric can be made out of recycled plastic bottles. Derelict ships are scuttled to form reefs that support marine life.
E is for ELIMINATE
Can you eliminate a step? A component?
As an accountant are you doing too much low value work? Can you eliminate the time you spend on bookkeeping by restructuring your offer?
What can be taken away from a system and still have it meet its intended purposes?
Elimination can distill a comprehensive service or product down to a single, easily understood and marketed element.
Technology can often play a role. Can you eliminate the checkout process at your store by having automated scanning and payment? Can you eliminate the hassle of checkout from your website by storing payment information?
Restaurants can improve their quality and avoid food wastage by eliminating all but their signature dishes.
R is for REVERSE/REARRANGE
The final idea catalyst is reverse or rearrange.
It’s commonplace now but the original fast food restaurants completely reversed the until then standard table service model. Rather than ordering at the table and being billed at the end, customers lined up to order and paid up front.
How can you reverse your product or service? Can you reverse the order you provide your service in? Reverse or rearrange the order of steps you take to create your offer?
A wind tunnel makes it easier to test objects’ aerodynamics by rushing air over the object instead of rushing the object through the air.
A mortgage lets a homeowner make gradual payments to increase equity in their home. A reverse mortgage lets the homeowner gradually reduce equity to produce spending money.
A standing desk rearranges a workspace, encouraging better posture and circulation.
Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee is a reversal – it’s the talk show that comes to you.
How can you use SCAMPER?
Try applying SCAMPER to trace the evolution of pasta from a plain noodle eaten by hand to the varieties available now. How can SCAMPER explain the history – and predict the future – of the automobile, financial services, or your industry?
Do you see signs of SCAMPER thinking in business leaders or companies you respect? Does Jeff Bezos SCAMPER? Does Elon Musk? Does Apple? What about competitors in your segment?
Download a free printable guide to SCAMPER
Click here to get your free downloadable guide to the SCAMPER’s 7 Powerful Idea Generators, which includes the info on this page and seven examples of idea generation involving Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Delicious!