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How to use the SCAMPER problem solving tool

by | Feb 24, 2020

The SCAMPER problem solving tool and how to use it

SCAMPER is an acronym for Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify/Magnify, Put to other uses, Eliminate and Reverse. It’s provides a framework and stimulates questions and triggers which can be used to help you look at your challenge, work, project or product differently.

I first came across this tool when I began my research into creativity over a decade ago, in Michael Michalko’s brilliant, Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative Thinking Techniques, and find it really helpful provoke new avenues of thought, both individually and in groups.

When to use it:

The SCAMPER question can trigger modifications of something that already exists, but they can also prove as a springboard to truly fresh thinking. I find that the Substitute and Reverse triggers can be the most helpful to get to breakthrough ideas, whilst the others can build on what exists, to refresh and often generate more incremental-type ideas.

How to use it:

Write the problem statement or challenge you are trying to solve here. In what ways might we…. Also make a list of the components/different aspects of the problem here: this can come in handy when you look through the triggers. Then look through the principles and see what fresh ideas it gives you. Like every creativity tool it might not give you the answer immediately, or even the right answer that meets your criteria, but it will give you new ideas, and hopefully unexpected ones too!

So for example:

Substitute questions

  • What perspective that is different from your own that you could substitute?
  • What emotion could you substitute?
  • What would happen if you ran your activity in another part of the UK or another country or culture?
  • Can you substitute any part of the process, or one material for another?

Combine questions

  • Generate 5 ideas each – then see what new combinations you can make from mashing them up
  • What would be an unusual combination?

Adapt questions

  • Could you adapt your work to serve another purpose or use?
  • Who or what could you emulate to adapt your work?
  • What other products or ideas could you use for inspiration?

Modify questions

  • Play with scale – what happens if you make it bigger?
  • Or smaller?
  • Or faster?
  • What can you change?

Put to another use questions

  • What can you recycle?
  • Can you use your solution somewhere else?
  • Who else could benefit from your work?

Eliminate questions

  • What elements of your product or project or idea could you eliminate?
  • What is superfluous?
  • How can you make it more focused or more precise?

Reverse questions

  • What if you did the exact opposite of what you’re trying to do now?
  • Brainstorm all your assumptions, then reverse them.
  • What would happen if you reversed your process or sequence?

You can download a free worksheet SCAMPER Sheet website.

SCAMPER is just one creativity tool that we teach on our best-selling course, How To Be A Creative Ninja – check it out here or email claire@nowgocreate.co.uk for more info.

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