Brainstorming Technique 5: Scamper

You may think that we have already discussed so many great brainstorming ideas, that it should be enough to have you set for life. But the technique that we will be sharing today, is so amazing. It can take literally any concept or idea and create genius through it.

We are going to learn the art of manipulation today, which is so powerful that you can literally take any great idea that already exists, and is a proven success, and make it your very own by modifying it.

Today’s brainstorming technique number 5 is called SCAMPER which is not so much about creating new ideas but about morphing new ideas from old ones. Scamper is all about searching for alternatives. Let’s test this with an example; what do you see in the below picture?


If you said horse, you are absolutely right. But what if I told you to find the frog in the picture. It might take you a while to look around for the frog. Now just tilt your head sideways, and there it is! A frog in all its glory.

You did not have to look for a separate drawn shape of the frog, instead you just tilted the head or the picture and a completely new thing has come to light, in the very same picture.

The scamper technique allows us to think of alternatives. One idea can have multiple alternatives. What if I were to ask you to give me half of the number 15? You would say 7.5, and that is correct. But that is not the only alternative. The other alternative could be halving the number itself into 1 and 5, or halving the roman version of the number XV into X and V or 10 and 5 and so on. We can come up with even more alternatives.


How do we do it?

So the word scamper is actually an acronym of the techniques it uses to examine and manipulate ideas as below:

S- Substitute something

C- Combine it with something else

A- Adapt it to something else

M- Modify or Magnify it

P- Put it to some other use

E- Eliminate something

R- Reverse or Rearrange it

As usual, we will apply this technique to an example to fully understand it.


Let’s Scamper!

For our example, let’s take a whiteboard market and see if we can make it better and open a new market for it.

Now, before we start, let’s keep in mind that this is just an exercise to think freely. If we implement everything to our marker that we discuss below, we may end up with a useless and impractical product. The aim here is to ask these questions and then see what are the best results to work on. You may also find that some questions may be more difficult to answer than others, and that is alright as well.

#1- What can be substituted in the marker?

Well, one of the things that we keep losing is the plastic cap and our marker tips dry up. So can we substitute this plastic cap. What if were to have a clicking type marker and replace the cap with a click mechanism on the marker. This way we will never lose the marker cap.

#2- Can we combine the marker with something else?

Something that goes hand in hand with a whiteboard marker is a whiteboard eraser. But having an eraser the size of the marker may mean a lot more work in erasing a big whiteboard with content on it. But most whiteboards are magnetic and some come without place holders to hold markers. What if we were to combine the marker with a magnet? That way after usage we could stick the marker right there on the whiteboard without the fear of ever losing it.

#3- Can we adapt some other idea for our marker?

A lot of times during presentations, people use white boards as their backgrounds, and use laser pointers to go through presentations. Can we adapt laser technology into our marker? Our marker can be a regular marker during some sessions and a laser pointer during others.

#4- What can we modify or magnify?

We talked about the marker having an erase at its back. Perhaps we can make the eraser bigger and bendable so that it can be used to rub the whiteboard and be folded away when not in use.

#5- Can we put it to some other use?

Going back to the magnet aspect of our marker, we can use markers to pin up charts, images, or other papers on our white board. Of course, this would be useless if we are using the marker to write as well, but maybe the magnetic part could be detachable, or it could be a holder of sorts, to hold paper in place as well as house the marker when not in use.

#6- Can we eliminate something in it?

A lot of whiteboard markets have chemicals like xylene or toluene in it. These chemicals can be bad for health. We could eliminate these chemicals and create safe and non-toxic markers that are erasable on any surface. This way we could sell to children as safe markers as well.

#7- Can we reverse or rearrange it?

Of course we can. Let’s put a nib at the top, an eraser along the body and a magnet at the bottom of the marker which is detachable. Now we don’t need any other tools for our marker.

As you can see from the above, that we really had no difficulty coming up with ideas when asked the scamper questions. Of course, not all answers and ideas are doable or practical, but if we were to choose just one or two or a combination that compliments each other, then we can actually create a better whiteboard marker.

Even though we used a product in the above example, the scamper questions can also be applied to services. In this case, you can isolate a certain part of the service and apply scamper on that part. For example, if you are a customer care call centre, you can isolate the process of transferring calls only and see how you can make it better by asking the scamper questions.

Before we wrap up, I want to share a recent example of a scamper question used on a product. And this is a question that these developers always seem to ask. The new iPhone7 is famously missing a headphone jack. Apple has long been known to take things away from their phone to make it better quality and they have done it over and over with great results. The new feature or the elimination of the feature in this case, makes room for better speakers and adds to its waterproofing abilities.

So, if the leaders in innovation use this technique, so should you.