SCAMPER is a tool to help you think about manipulating your subject in various ways. It can be used by yourself as well as with a group. You can use it, for example, when brainstorming to stimulate new ideas.
SCAMPER is an acronym:
- S – Substitute
- C – Combine
- A – Adapt
- M – Magnify/Minify/Modify
- P – Put to other uses
- E – Eliminate
- R – Reverse/Rearrange
The various techniques aren’t necessarily exclusive of each other — a substitution might also be a modification, for example — and the techniques can be used together, for example, applying a combination idea along with an elimination idea.
To use SCAMPER, first isolate your subject, e.g., by stating the problem you’d like to solve or the idea you’d like to develop. Then go through the SCAMPER list and ask questions about your subject.
For what can be substituted, think about things such as: process, procedure, rule, person or people, place, time, color, approach, part, shape, texture, sound, smell, name, people’s feelings or attitudes towards the subject, power, force.
For combination, think about things such as: what ideas, purposes, or parts can be combined or merged, what assortments, materials, people, or appeals can be combined; can a blend be created with something else that will create additional uses; can different talents be combined.
For adaptation, think of such things as: what else is like your subject, but in a different context; what other ideas are suggested; how can circumstances be adapted to; what ideas can be incorporated, what can be copied or imitated, who can be emulated, what different contexts can the subject be put in to.
For magnification, think of such things as: what can be made larger, extended, exaggerated, overstated; can more time be added; can it be made higher, longer, stronger, more frequent, thicker; can additional features or value be added; can something be duplicated.
For minification, think of such things as: what can be made smaller, more restricted, understated, streamlined; can something need less time, go slower, be made lighter, can it be made lower in height, weaker, less frequent; can a feature be removed or less value added and have the thing be used for a new purpose; how can costs, time, effort, or waste be minimized.
For modification, think of such things as: what can be altered for the better; can the meaning, color, motion, shape, package be changed; can the name change; can some plan or process be modified.
For putting to other uses, think of such things as: what else can the product, process, or idea can be used for; what new ways can the thing can be used as it already is, or any other uses if the thing is modified somehow; how can it be used by people other than those it was originally intended for, or by a child, an older person, or a person with disabilities; what other markets or industries could it be used by, perhaps with modifications.
For elimination, think of such things as: what’s not necessary, what can be omitted, divided, split-up, separated into different components; what rules or processes can be eliminated; how can it be simplified; what can be removed without altering its basic function; how can waste be eliminated.
For reversing, think of such things as: what are the opposites of the idea; what are the negatives; can you turn something around or backwards or upside down; can roles be reversed; can something unexpected be done; what if the subject was used for the exact opposite of what it was intended for.
For rearranging, think of such ideas as: what ways can another arrangement be better; what parts can be interchanged; can another pattern or layout or sequence be created; can the pace or schedule of something be changed.
References used in this episode:
- Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative-Thinking Techniques (2nd Edition), by Michael Michalko, Chapter 9, SCAMPER.
- Cracking Creativity: The Secrets of Creative Genius, by Michael Michalko, pages 95-104.
- SCAMPER technique training for lateral thinking
- Creative Problem Solving with SCAMPER
- Wikipedia article on Alex Osborn