We will now look at two tools for generating new ideas. They approach the question from looking at the things we already have. They can help us transform any object, service or process into something else. These can be used for solving specific problems but are perhaps more helpful when the need is to expand a product or services portfolio or work out how to apply existing products, services or processes to new situations.
The background image on the slide is an electricity distribution pylon or tower, but its viewed from underneath. It’s a complexly different perspective than we normally get. Its recognisable and so it is another example of how our brains work with patterns.
Scamper is an acronym for a number of tools which can be used to change one’s perspective in order to transform existing objects, products, services or processes or find new ways of using them. SCAMPER is a Swiss Army Knife for the creative thinker it stands for:
Substitute some element of it
Combine something else with it
Adapt it to something or something to it
Magnify it or modify it in some way
Put it to a new use
Eliminate some part of it
Let’s investigate these tools that enable you to think through how to change an existing object, service or process. There follows a worked example using a mind map to set out some SCAMPER possibilities. We will focus on cameras, only because we are all familiar with them and it was easy to think through the tools for this example.
Look at the entity you are considering and ask if there is anything about it that you can substitute for something else? For instance:
- Can the people who operate it be substituted?
- Can the rules be changed in any way?
- Can you exchange any element, component, material or ingredient for something else?
Considering the mind map example for Substitute. We saw this photography example a few years ago. Substitute electronic sensors for photographic film and the digital camera is born.
Ironically Polaroid and Kodak were pioneers of digital cameras, although they didn’t see the trend and tried to hold on to film. Both corporations have significantly diminished as a result. Had they really been creative they could have been dominant in the market with first mover advantage. That is what Apple has in the smart phone and tablet markets.
The lesson is that just because you can come up with creative ideas you have to do something with them, especially if they are disruptive in nature.
What can you combine with the object, service or process to make something new? You might ask questions like:
- What other thing can we combine or merge with this and how can they be merged?
- What materials can we combine?
- How can it be packaged with something else?
- What ideas can be combined?
- Can we combine its purpose with some other purpose?
The example is combining a digital camera with a periodic timer and creating what is called a lifeline camera. It was developed in the UK to help people with medical problems that affected short term memory. The idea was that the person wore it all day and it took snap shots every 30 seconds to help them see what they had done that day. The product was discontinued. A similar but more technical device is now available for police officers to wear to help record events and incidents in which they are involved. It continues to run all the time can hold a shift’s worth of video if needed.
How can you take what you have and adapt it for some new use or does something already exist that can be adapted to your need? Many things considered, most innovations are the adaptation of some idea or method to a new situation, frequently they are the ideas of others that trigger such insights. You might ask questions like:
- What is similar to this or what other idea does it suggest?
- Is there something that could be copied and changed to fit the need?
- Is there some idea that can be incorporated or adapted to fit the need?
- How can this be adapted to fit some other need or situation?
- What is there outside of my normal area of expertise that could be incorporated?
An example with a camera is: Can I adapt it to new uses such as underwater use or low light-no light situations. Besides making waterproof cameras some manufacturers provide watertight cases that enable ordinary cameras to be used underwater. It is also possible to adapt digital cameras to work with infrared because most sensors used are infrared sensitive and cameras have a filter to block infrared. Remove the filter and apply a visible light filter and the job is done.
How can I make something actually bigger or seem bigger in some way?
Ask questions like:
- What thing or element could be made larger or magnified?
- What property can be extended e.g could more time make a difference? Can it be made stronger? Can its dimensions be made bigger? For instance the case of a watch can make all the difference to the sense of quality. The standard movement in a plastic case will seem cheap but a weighty stainless steel case will make it seem a quality product.
- Can it be delivered more often or given extra features?
- Can we add value to it?
An example in the mind map is to have an advertising hoarding sized view-finder which fits the scene behind the hoarding into the advert in some way. If the camera lens is facing the viewer perhaps it could be used to show them wearing the latest fashion item.
Two weeks after I wrote this the BBC reported a prototype of a digital changing booth which took a digital picture of a customer and showed fashion outfits superimposed on their image. The display was the size of a full length mirror.
Put to a New Use
How can I use this to do something different? The questions you might ask include:
- What else can be done with this?
- Are there new ways to use it?
- Can anything else be made from this?
The camera is a general product for taking pictures and can applied in all sorts of ways. It’s a bit like pen. It’s used to write but what can be written is limited only by the imagination of the users and the opportunities available.
Is there something that can be eliminated? Perhaps things can be eliminated from the object, service or process to change its nature.
Ask questions like:
- What if we made it smaller?
- What if we divided it into parts?
- How can we streamline it or make it more compact?
- What if we removed some functions?
- Which rules can be left out?
- What parts can be left out?
Considering a camera again.
Eliminate most of the camera, the view finder controls, battery life and removable memory card and the result is a very small camera perhaps an inspection camera or security camera. It is possible to get very small key ring cameras.
Reversal is about looking at things from the opposite perspective to open up new ideas; switching tracks and changing perspectives. Sometimes it’s about looking for the opposite of what you have and trying to imagine the opposites existing at the same time.
Ask questions like:
- What are the opposites to or negatives of what I have now? What does that mean?
- Can we turn something about this around, upside down, etc.? How would that affect how things worked?
- Can we reverse roles, what would happen?
The camera example: People use cameras to take pictures of objects, what if the object took the picture of itself? Sounds a bit like radar triggered speed cameras where the speed of the cars triggers the camera. Passive Infra-Red triggered Security cameras could also result from such a thought.
The ideas box is another approach to synthesising ideas. It starts with the challenge. The various parameters of the challenge are identified and then mixed together to devise specific ideas. It can also be applied to any object, service or process.
Step 1 – Identify the challenge
The first need is to identify the challenge and then write it out.
In our case it’s a slight extension of the theme we have already used: “How can I release people to serve the community.”
Step 2 – Identify the parameters of the challenge
The parameters are the key ideas you can expand to define a specific version of the challenge. The test of whether an element is worth including is whether the challenge would still exist if it was not included. Don’t create too many as the more you have the more difficult it becomes to see what’s going on.
The parameters of this challenge are:
Set these out, each at the head of a column.
Step 3 – List the specific possibilities for each parameter.
Consider each parameter in turn and list in its column specific possibilities. Don’t create too many as it’s easier to see what’s going on if doesn’t get too complicated.
Let’s look at some examples:
Considering the parameter – “Release” we are really asking what could release mean in our context. E.g:
- Train (the people so they can have an appropriate capability)
- Apprentice (apprentice people coaching and mentoring them in a capability)
- Fund (so they can fulfil a particular ministry)
- Provide facilities (so they have somewhere to carry out their ministry)
- Provide a leader (so they can work out how to fulfil their ministry)
- Challenge (people so that they are motivated to act)
- Canvas work (find opportunities for their ministry)
We need to be specific about which people we mean:
- The Sporty
- (the full list is quite long)
What do we mean by serve, what are the possibilities?
- Jobs (do jobs that people need doing)
- Interest clubs (organise these for people with common interests)
- Shopping (help those who need help with shopping)
- Drop-in centre (run these for people who would benefit)
- Toddlers (run a mother and toddler’s club)
- Self-help club (for those that need such help)
- Homework club (for school children)
- Parenting classes (to help inexperienced, disadvantage parents)
- Mentoring (to support and develop people in some way)
Identify the possible categories of people in the community who can be served: E.g
- Lone parents
- (the full list is quite long)
Step 4 – Try out various combinations
Now see how items in each of the parameter categories might be combined to define a specific outcome, in this case a ministry.
- Provide a leader and apprentice men so they are equipped to mentor young people who are unemployed.
- Provide facilities and train young people so they can run homework clubs for children.
Plainly there a lot more possibilities to identify, each of which is a practical answer to the challenge as stated. Of course, the ideas must be evaluated for the reality of the need, their practicality and, not least, to be confirmed as being in line with God’s leading.
Take a Moment
- Choose some object, service or process with which you are familiar and apply each of the SCAMPER tools to it.
- What have you learned from this exercise?
Take a Moment
- Working with the problem statement you originally started with in the earlier “Take a Moment” exercise, or one of the restatements that emerged from those exercises:
- Apply the Ideas Box to it.
- How do the outcomes differ from the earlier exercises?
- What have you learned?