Using the SCAMPER technique to help generate new ideas. Click through to read!

I'm always on the lookout for new techniques that help with solving problems and generating ideas. Any tool you can use to either dissolve an artistic block, or brainstorm new solutions for your business, is a win-win in my book. I've come across the SCAMPER technique before in relation to product design, but haven't really delved deeper into where else it could be applied before.

This technique has been credited to the father of brainstorming, Alex Osborn, but Bob F. Eberle, who wrote about creativity for children and teachers, came up with the actual mnemonic with the aim of increasing interest in creative thinking in children. Since then, the technique has been adopted to be used in corporate settings to facilitate creative decision-making, and by product designers to spark ideas for new products, but you can apply the method to pretty much any situation which requires problem-solving or idea-generation.

So, what does this mystical SCAMPER acronym stand for? Here's the breakdown:

S – Substitute

C – Combine

A – Adapt

M – Modify/Magnify

P – Put to other use

E – Eliminate

R – Reverse/Rearrange

Suppose you want to create a better-selling package for your portrait sessions. You can begin with applying the SCAMPER mnemonic by asking questions like this:

  • What can I substitute in my current package?
  • What could I combine to offer something more exciting?
  • What can I adapt in order to make it more unique?
  • What could I modify in the way I present my package?
  • What could I magnify to make it stand out?
  • What other uses could I think of for my portrait package?
  • What could be eliminated from my current package?
  • What is the reverse of a ‘regular' portrait session?
  • What rearrangement of the way I conduct my sessions could make me more unique?

You could then for example go to substitute offering a regular portrait session with offering a chance to spend time having fun with you, with the added bonus of getting images. Or you could combine a portrait session with pampering and offer hair & make-up and cocktails with your session experience. You could adapt further and create an experience with a stylist who can help your clients feel like movie stars for the duration of their session. You could modify the design of your brochure to be more interactive with a questionnaire for your clients to fill in so you can personalise their session. You could think what others uses a portrait service could have, perhaps offering professional lifestyle portraits for groups of tourists if you live in a tourist hot spot. There may be things you can eliminate from your package to make it simpler for prospective clients to grasp, and to increase your profit. What could be the reverse of a portrait session as most people think of it? Perhaps creating a portrait day in an unusual venue, such as a riverboat, where families could enjoy time together, and with other families, and have relaxed portraits taken. Could you rearrange your session in a way that makes you stand out? For example specialising in portraits at the client's home, instead of having them come to you.

To stay focused, you can concentrate on just one or two of the SCAMPER categories at a time, and delve deeper with questions in order to get closer to a solution. Here are some suggestions for questions to ask:

Substitute

  • What or who could be substituted?
  • Could the ingredients or material be substituted?
  • Could the process be substituted?
  • Could the location be substituted?
  • What else instead?

Combine

  • What ideas could be combined?
  • Could materials be combined?
  • What could be merged?
  • What could be combined for multiple uses?
  • Could different purposes be combined?

Adapt

  • What other idea does this remind me of?
  • What could I copy?
  • What else is similar to this?
  • What else could be adapted?
  • What different context could the concept work in?
  • What ideas outside of my industry could I adapt?

Modify

  • How can this be made better?
  • What could be modified?
  • Is there anything that would make this idea more fresh?
  • Could I change the name?
  • Could I change other aspects?
  • What changes could I make with the marketing?
  • In what other form could I offer this?

Magnify

  • What aspect could be highlighted?
  • What could be added? More time? More attention?
  • Could I add a higher frequency to my offering?
  • What could add extra value?
  • What could be duplicated?
  • What could be exaggerated?

Put to other use

  • What else could it be used for?
  • Is there different way to use it as it is?
  • What else could be made of it?
  • Could it be offered in other markets?

Eliminate

  • What could be taken out?
  • Could it be split up?
  • Could it be made smaller?
  • Could the rules be eliminated?
  • What's not needed?
  • What would make it clearer?

Rearrange

  • How could I arrange this better?
  • Could I interchange things?
  • Could I rejig the layout?
  • Could things happen in a different order?
  • Could the pace be changed?
  • Could I rearrange the schedule?

Reverse

  • What are the opposites?
  • What are the negatives?
  • Could I turn it around?
  • What would be unexpected?
  • Could I reverse the roles?

I hope you'll go and have some fun with this technique! Just remember, ideas and innovation are about constant movement. If you can get into the habit of using different techniques to prod your brain, the more chances you have of coming up with new solutions. Try not to think of trying to get to that ONE BIG IDEA of a lifetime, but rather developing a habit of constant problem solving and innovation.

Author: Marianne Taylor

Her Lovely Heart founder Marianne Taylor is a photographer, an educator, and a lover of colour & light. Her work has been published in blogs and magazines the world over and her personal photography has been part of an exhibition at Tate Britain. To work with Marianne, see the mentoring services she offers. Or, if you like the photography on HLH, you might want to check out her Product & Lifestyle photography services to see whether you could work together to help your brand grow. She is also slightly obsessed with her two cats, Astrid & Sofia, and loves Instagram.

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