Creativity is a central component of innovation. Without an ability to address what can be changed, altered, or improved upon with regards to processes, technologies, products and artistic forms, there is no room for progress. However, just telling someone to ‘think creatively’ doesn’t provide them with the necessary questions or techniques to help guide them there – that’s where SCAMPER comes in.
SCAMPER is simple, thought-provoking and multi-faceted, which makes it a perfect tool for promoting creativity. Each letter of the acronym provides different questions you can ask yourself to spur creativity:
Substitute: What can be replaced? These might be materials, people, or rules that can be replaced to change the function of the product or process. We might also ask ourselves whether the product’s use can be substituted. The substitute component of SCAMPER works a bit like a trial-and-error process, in which you’d substitute different parts in and evaluate the outcome.3
Example: Innovative food items often use the substitute technique. For example, in 2016, a new food trend emerged: the sushi burrito.4 Realizing the popularity of burritos, restaurants thought about what ingredients could be substituted whilst still maintaining the concept and came up with a sushi burrito.
Combine: What features, uses or components can be combined? Are there features of products that could be synthesized to provide a better, more holistic product? If looking at a project rather than a product, are there different team members that can combine their work?
Example: One of the most successful examples of combining different features is the innovation of smartphones. While originally, people had different devices for taking pictures, listening to music, accessing the internet and making phone calls, smartphones combine all these different functions into one efficient product.5
Adapt: What can be slightly tweaked to improve the product or process? Could a solution to one issue be adapted to help solve a different issue? In what ways does the product/process need to change to adapt itself to changing lifestyles?
Example: Netflix is a company that adapted itself to changing norms and has enjoyed tremendous success as a result. While it began in 1999 as a DVD rental service, executives realized that ‘streaming’ was increasing in popularity and adapted their business model as such. Blockbuster did not adapt its business model and went out of business in 2013, demonstrating the importance of adaptation for success.3 To read more about the contrast between Blockbuster and Netflix, take a look at our Olivier Sibony thinker profile, as he closely examines the mistakes Blockbuster made that ultimately led to its demise.
Modify (or sometimes, minify/magnify): How can the process be changed in a way that changes the outcomes? What can you magnify to emphasize a particular part of the process, or what can you minify to improve the overall efficiency? Can you modify the shape, color, or size? 3
Example: If you aren’t convinced that changing the color of a product or brand is enough to change the success of a company, think about some of the most famous logos. For example, consider IKEA and Muji, two companies that sell household goods. Ikea’s logo is blue and yellow, which emphasizes their Swedish origins. Alternatively, Muji’s logo is red, emphasizing that it is a Japanese culture, which may draw attention to the minimalist nature of their products.6 The ‘modify’ technique can be used to shape logos, which greatly influence how a company is regarded by the public.
Put to another use: What benefits might be gained by using the process/product in a different field? Is there another industry in which the product can succeed? How can this product be used in a way that differs from its initial intent?
Example: With rising concerns about climate change, the ‘put to another use’ technique can inspire creative ways to help the planet, such as creative repurposing or upcycling. It can be used to apply something without any purpose to something functional. For example, shoe companies like Adidas have decided to put ocean waste to another use: shoes.3 They started producing shoes made of recycled ocean waste, allowing them to come up with a cool new product and help the environment all in one shot.
Eliminate: Sometimes, the best way to make a product better is to eliminate some of the unnecessary components. What can be removed or simplified? Is there a way to better streamline the product?
Example: Bluetooth earphones eliminated the string component of traditional, wire earphones in order to make the product more user-friendly. Another example is Apple’s decision to remove their CD drive, which enabled them to make laptops thinner and lighter.3
Reverse: Would changing the sequence of effects produce a different outcome? What can be rearranged, flipped, or swapped?
Example: The reverse technique might be especially useful for changing decision-making strategies. For example, if a company is used to taking a top-down approach, emphasizing the big picture rather than micro components, they might reverse their patterns by instead taking a bottom-up approach, which emphasizes specific characteristics. This might help them come up with new solutions that were invisible initially.3