Tip #659:  Generating Ideas with SCAMPER

“The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas.” Linus Pauling

Whenever there is a need to generate ideas, brainstorming inevitably comes to mind. But there is another method called SCAMPER that puts a spin on brainstorming. SCAMPER stands for Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put to another use, Eliminate, and Reverse.

You go down the list, using each of the words as a prompt for questions to brainstorm, when you want to come up with new ideas to develop or improve a product, process, service or even people.

As with any brainstorming session, some of the answers may not be possible or useful. However, SCAMPER provides a format that can generate more answers than a simple brainstorming session.

Let’s look at how each prompt works.

We’ll assume that we want to improve how we conduct orientation for new hires. We currently use a two-day general training program for all new hires conducted by subject matter experts, in addition to a one-on-one job-specific orientation conducted by the employees’ supervisors.

Substitute involves removing an element and substituting something else. One substitute question to brainstorm might be:

What can we use instead to improve orientation?

Possible answers might be: online learning, just in time modules, orientation notebooks, experts available by text, job shadowing, YouTube videos, buddy system, resource banks, learning system modules, job manuals, spaced sessions, shorter sessions, etc.

Combine ideas involves putting ideas together. One question to brainstorm might be:

Which of the ideas generated by the first question can we put together?

Possible answers might be: shorter just-in-time modules; online learning and YouTube videos; job shadowing, spaced sessions and learning system module; learning system module and shorter classroom training sessions.

Adapt involves changing part of something so it works in some context. An adapt question could be:

 What could we imitate to adapt our current orientation program?

Possible answers might be: professional conferences, monthly professional association meetings, staff meetings, brown bags, all staff meetings, field trips, mentoring, job shadowing, etc.

Modify involves changing, magnifying or minimizing a particular attribute. One question to brainstorm could be:

What could we add to modify the orientation program?

Possible answers might be: a Pokémon-type game, scavenger hunt, handheld mobile video devices, tours of various worksites, panel of supervisors, etc.

Put involves using matter under discussion in other ways. We might ask:

Who else could benefit from our orientation training program?

Possible answers might be: long-term seasoned employees who would benefit from updated information; new management; customers; vendors; etc.

Eliminate involves removing elements. One question we might ask:

What features could we eliminate?

Possible answers might be: lectures from top managers; PowerPoint presentations; modules about complex benefits and payroll information that they really need to get one-on-one; lengthy descriptions of parts of the organization with which the new hires will have no contact; information available online; etc.

Reverse involves reversing or sequencing things differently. One question might be:

How could we reorganize the orientation program?

Possible answers could be: Remove the benefits and payroll segment; add in a field trip to tour different worksites; convert the top management individual presentations into a panel discussion; if we keep the two-day general orientation program, organize each day around a different focus, such as: the information new hires need and the tools new hires will use; etc.

 An organization with which I worked did modify their orientation program by:

  • Substituting: replacing the payroll and benefits segment with a learning system module;
  • Combining: using the learning system module with shorter classroom training sessions;
  • Adapting: imitating a field trip;
  • Modifying: adding a scavenger hunt-like activity, a panel of supervisors and tours of different worksites;
  • Putting to another use: including managers as participants;
  • Eliminating: removing lengthy descriptions of parts of the organization that were not relevant to the new hires;
  • Reversing: adding in a field trip to tour different worksites and structuring each of the two days around a different focus.

Unfortunately, these changes occurred in many stages that involved multiple time consuming and belabored meetings.

If we had known about SCAMPER, it would definitely have focused our thinking and helped us to identify the possible alternatives more quickly and easily. We might have identified the changes we wanted to make in one meeting!  SCAMPER could have been our one-shop-stop for idea generation!

Have you ever used SCAMPER? How would it be beneficial?

May your learning be sweet,


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