The SCAMPER method
S.C.A.M.P.E.R. is an acronym that provides an activity-based thinking process, and structured way of assisting students to think out of the box and enhance their knowledge. Alex Osborn, credited by many as the originator of brainstorming, came up with many of the questions used in the technique as early as in 1953. In 1971, education administrator and author Bob Eberle organized the questions into the SCAMPER mnemonic:
Substitute – come up with another topic that is equivalent to the present topics
Henry Heinz used glass jars instead of tin cans for his pickles, sauerkraut and vinegar and became a multimillionaire.
- What materials or resources can you substitute or swap to improve the product?
- What other product or process could you use?
- What rules could you substitute?
- Can you use this product somewhere else, or as a substitute for something else?
- What will happen if you change your feelings or attitude toward this product?
Combine – add information to the original topic
Gregor Mendel created a whole new scientiﬁc discipline, genetics, by combining mathematics with biology.
- What would happen if you combine this product with another, to create something new?
- What if you combine purposes or objectives?
- What could you combine to maximize the uses of this product?
- How could you combine talent and resources to create a new approach to this product?
Adapt – identify ways to construct the topic in a more flexible and adjusted material
Ray Kroc, a high‑school dropout, was a Multimixer salesman when he became intrigued with the way Dick and Maurice McDonald had simpliﬁed, economised and minimised the hamburger business. Kroc bought them out, adapted their ideas and invented the concept of fast food.
- How could you adapt or readjust this product to serve another purpose or use?
- What else is the product like?
- Who or what could you emulate to adapt this product?
- What else is like your product?
- What other context could you put your product into?
- What other products or ideas could you use for inspiration?
Modify, magnify, minify – creatively change the topic
- How could you change the shape, look, or feel of your product?
- What could you add to modify this product?
- What could you emphasize or highlight to create more value?
- What element of this product could you strengthen to create something new?
Put to another use – identify the possible scenarios where this topic can be used
If you can get rid of your preconceptions and look at your subject in a fresh way, you will begin to imagine what else you could do with it. This kind of thinking turned a failed product into 3M’s biggest consumer success. The company had developed a special not‑very‑sticky adhesive for use on bulletin boards, a product idea that never caught on. Arthur Fry, a 3M chemist, was intrigued by the glue and kept searching for other uses. One day, in 1974, Fry was singing in his church choir and dropped the bookmark from his hymnal. He suddenly realised that the adhesive could be used to keep little notes and bookmarks in place. This creative insight, that the glue’s primary use should be attaching paper to paper, gave us the Post‑it.
- Can you use this product somewhere else, perhaps in another industry?
- Who else could use this product?
- How would this product behave differently in another setting?
- Could you recycle the waste from this product to make something new?
Eliminate – remove ideas or elements from the topic that are not valuable
Sometimes subtracting something from your subject brings forth new ideas. Trimming down ideas, objects and processes may gradually narrow the subject down to its truly necessary parts of function – or highlight a part that’s appropriate for some other use. For instance, if you take away everything that makes a tank warlike, you create a tractor.
- How could you streamline or simplify this product?
- What features, parts, or rules could you eliminate?
- What could you understate or tone down?
- How could you make it smaller, faster, lighter, or more fun?
- What would happen if you took away part of this product? What would you have in its place?
Reverse, rearrange – evolve a new concept from the original concept
Think of the alphabet: only twenty‑six letters, but they’ve been rearranged to form words, sentences, paragraphs and books that make you laugh, cry, worry and ponder.
- What would happen if you reversed this process or sequenced things differently?
- What if you try to do the exact opposite of what you’re trying to do now?
- What components could you substitute to change the order of this product?
- What roles could you reverse or swap?
- How could you reorganize this product?