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Brainstorm More Effectively Using the SCAMPER Method

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Image via VLADGRIN/Shutterstock.com

How do you and your team continue brainstorming when you’ve run out of ideas? One of the biggest obstacles with any idea generating session is finding ways to think outside the box—especially when your idea generating energy starts to peter out. When a brainstorming session hits a wall, dig deeper using the SCAMPER Method.

SCAMPER stands for:

  • Substitute
  • Combine
  • Adapt
  • Modify
  • Put to another use
  • Eliminate
  • Reverse

This mnemonic device is designed to help you think about ideas and business processes in new, sometimes counterintuitive ways. Use SCAMPER by asking critical questions about new ideas or existing business methods using each of the seven categories above.  

For instance, if you’re seeking to improve customer service, you’d use the “R” for reverse, asking “How can we reduce or make customer satisfaction worse?” Once you’ve come up with a list of ways you can achieve the opposite of your goal, flip the negative ideas to positive ones. You’ll have a list of new ideas you would have missed otherwise. Look at the new list and assess if any of the ideas are viable starting points worth exploring further.

Use all seven categories to come up with a host of new ideas. Some example questions:

Substitute:

  • What resources can be swamped to improve this business process?
  • What alternate methods are there for doing this function?
  • Where or how else could this process be applied?

Combine:

  • Can this process be combined with another to create something new?
  • How could we combine with another team or talent stream to come up with a new way of doing this?
  • What would happen if you combined the objective of this function with the objective of an altogether different function or process?

Adapt:

  • How could this product or process be adapted to accomplish another function?
  • How would a completely new team execute this function? What would make their transition difficult?
  • What is this process/product similar to?

Modify:

  • What could you add/subtract to change the outcome of this function?
  • What can be promoted or emphasized to change outcomes?
  • What could you do to change the way this product is viewed—visually or emotionally?

Put to Another Use:

  • Where else can this product/process be used?
  • What other offices or agencies can use this tool?
  • How would it be applied by a local government?

Eliminate:

  • What could be eliminated to streamline this process?
  • What policies could be eliminated to achieve the result or mission of this function faster?
  • What would happen if we stopped doing this function altogether?

Reverse:

  • What would happen if our goal for this product/process was achieved?
  • How would this process look if you planned it all out backward—starting with the end in mind?
  • How could you change the order in which this process occurs or is executed?

SCAMPER is a good way to inject fun, and needed energy, into a brainstorming session. Working through the categories, or cherry picking the ones you feel are most useful, should help you and your team generate alternative ideas and stimulate a stream of new thinking.

What methods or formats have you used when brainstorming?  

(Image via VLADGRIN/Shutterstock.com)

Mark Micheli is Special Projects Editor for Government Executive Media Group. He's the editor of Excellence in Government Online and contributes to GovExec, NextGov and Defense One. Previously, he worked on national security and emergency management issues with the US Treasury Department and the Department of Homeland Security. He's a graduate of the Coro Fellows Program in Public Affairs and studied at Drake University.

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