Thinking Creatively – Tip du jour

SCAMPER – a checklist of idea-spurring questions.

This technique came from Michael Michalko’s book, Thinkertoys, for sale on my bookstore web page. Michael credits Alex Osborn for first suggesting this technique and Bob Eberle later arranged it into the mnemonic

S = Substitute?
C = Combine?
A = Adapt?
M = Modify? = Magnify?
P = Put to other uses?
E = Eliminate or minify?
R = Reverse? = Rearrange?


  1. Isolate the challenge or subject you want to think about.
  2. Ask SCAMPER questions about each step of the challenge or subject and see what new ideas emerge. Asking the questions triggers new ideas.

For example, imagine that you want to come up with different ways to increase sales for your business. Ask yourself:

  • What other services can I “substitute” for what we currently offer?
  • How can I “combine” what we do with other services to come up with new offerings?
  • What can I “adapt” or copy from someone else’s business?
  • How can I “modify” or alter what we offer?
  • What can I “magnify” or add to the services we offer?
  • How can I “put” our expertise to other uses?
  • What can I “eliminate” from the way we conduct our services?
  • What is the “reverse” of what we currently do?
  • What “rearrangement” of the way we present our services might be better perceived by our potential customers?

Michael wrote in Thinkertoys, that “even the hot dog, as we know it, is the result of asking the right SCAMPER question at the right time. In 1904, Antoine Feutchwanger was selling sausages at the Louisiana Exposition. First he tried offering them on individual plates, but this proved too expensive. He then offered his customers white cotton glove to keep the franks from burning their fingers. The gloves were expensive too, and customers tended to walk off with them. Antoine and his brother-in-law, a baker, sat down to figure out what inexpensive item could be “added (magnify)” to the frankfurter to prevent people from burning their fingers. His brother-in-law said something like ‘What if I baked a long bun and slit it to hold the frank? Then you can sell the franks, and I can sell you buns. Who knows, it might catch on.’”

Brainwriting – September 2003, Tip du jour