January 12, 2012

Solve problems with SCAMPER Method

I had described the technique of attribute method for problem solving in one of my earlier post. One of the problem faced in many problems is that how will you modify an idea. For example, how can you design a mobile phone for use of a 4-year old kid? You can simply sit over the matter and think about various combinations and aspects to solve it. But again, will you be able to generate sufficient number of concepts that cover all aspects? That too often under the pressure of limited time.

When I was doing my masters, I came across an amazing technique that removes the mental block and allows us to think in many possible directions. In his book, “Thinkertoys: A Handbook Of Creative-Thinking Techniques”, the author Michael Michalko, described a simple yet powerful technique called “SCAMPER”. Here I have attempted to explain this technique, with slight modifications.

What is SCAMPER?

SCAMPER is a mnemonic for;

    S – Substitute (“how can I substitute foam with wood to make my product eco-friendly?”)

    C – Combine (“how can I combine these two parts to simplify the assembly?”)

    A – Adapt (“how can I adapt the mechanism of flying insects wings to make my robot fly?”)

    M – Modify (“can I modify the paint of my product to white color, instead of black to prevent it from heating in the sun light?”)

    P - Put to Other Uses (“can I use the handle of frying pan to open handle of furnace?”)

    E - Eliminate (“can I eliminate some material from my product by making cutouts to reduce weight?”)

    R – Rearrange (“how can I rearrange the layout of egg packing carton so that more eggs will fit in the same space?”)


How to use SCAMPER?

  1. Frame the problem: you have to identify the problem you wish to solve
  2. Try to generate as many ideas as possible to solve the problem without using any technique. This will free your mind of any ideas and relax you.
  3. Identify the core elements of the problem: identify the objects, concepts, resources, etc. that comprise of the problem
  4. Apply the each of the seven SCAMPER techniques serially and come up with at least one solution with each

Where to use SCAMPER

  • You can use SCAMPER when you have run out of ways to generate new ideas
  • SCAMPER can address a problem from many different aspects
  • With SCAMPER, you address one aspect of the problem at a time, so it simplifies the approach
  • SCAMPER is better suited when an existing product is to be improved
  • SCAMPER provides a very good base for documentation of the idea generation flow
  • SCAMPER is one step method that applies solution directly to problem
  • SCAMPER helps you generate 7 solutions in one go
  • It assists in other creativity tools like brainstorming
  • It can kick start a stuck brainstorming session
  • It can be used in teams as well as individually

Where to be careful

  • It relies on identifying the resources correctly. Hence it is prone to errors if you fail at this step
  • It can constraint you to only seven ways of thinking, hence other ways maybe overlooked
  • It is a structured approach and can become boring after a while
  • SCAMPER itself does not give ‘how’ to execute the tool. For example, it does not give how to substitute

Fun exercises to challenge you

  • Use SCAMPER to generate concepts for eco-friendly phone
  • Using your own skills try to figure out what is the most profitable business you can come up with
  • Think about an innovative name for your laptop
  • What all ways can you think to reduce the accidents on the roads using scamper?
  • Think of the innovative ways to declutter your desk (hint: you can substitute the junk objects, combine them, etc)
  • How can you make your page more user friendly for people new to internet

Bonus download : downloadable summery of SCAMPER here. Take a printout to remind you of the toolkit


Bagad Baba bole.....!! said...

Hey Prasanna,
There was a problem this year that old people have problems gripping glass bottles......so device a solution to help them.....could you apply and exemplify SCAMPER here...???I know it would take some of your time but it would really be good to see the theory at work......

Prasanna Gadkari (M.Des in Product Design from I.I.Sc. ) said...

The problem you are presenting is highly constrained for using SCAMPER method. You need to generate at least one good solution first and then use SCAMPER to improve that

I will post one post about it soon

chetanyadav said...

hello sir, i got what scamper method is..as far as the visuals posted by you are concerned like doing something or other with circle and square,right? but i am stil wondering how to use it in practical appl-design mobile for 4yr kid,how sir? the technique is amazed me a lot but i am not able to apply it. Can i use your iisc email for other queries beyond ceed?

swati said...

Prasanna it's mind blowing. The techniques you posted are so simple but find so much of use in every day life as well.

Thanks for devising this.


Prasanna Gadkari (M.Des in Product Design from I.I.Sc. ) said...

Hello Swati,
Thanks for all the nice words, but its not my original technique, so i cannot unduly take credit for it. We had learnt this technique at IISc, and i have only put in the blog to help students solve problems in CEED effectively, and score better.

Kalpashri Topiwala said...

hello sir,its an amazing method but how to implement it on real world problems like one you pointed out of designing phone for 4 yr kid,one dats been asked in CEED ws to design scissors for blind.

it will be very helpful if you will explain a lil more on implementation of method on such problems..may be its me who is nt able to implement,guide plz.

Ruchi Bansal said...

hello sir..
what is the approximate cut off for part A and part B.

Prasanna Gadkari (M.Des in Product Design from I.I.Sc. ) said...

Hi Ruchi,
Though the score varies a lot each year, give your best and my best guess is score at least 40 in Part A. Minimum score needed in Part B depends on the institute you are planning to apply for. Even with this info, please give your best shot and score as much as you can :)

Xenon Ray said...

Hi,pg sirji :) This method is nice but I'm getting a bit confused about how to use it :(.Can you please give an example like the attribute method?

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