Everybody has the capacity to be creative, and it can be wonderfully fulfilling when it is done right.
But the reality for many people is that, once they have got past listing the obvious issues and bitch-points, their mind goes blank. And because it goes blank, they begin to believe that they lack the ability to be creative.
However, the real problem lies more often in the process being used for creativity than it is their natural ability (or lack of it) to be creative. Faced with a clear issue or obstacle, they can often see at least one way round it, but faced with a blank page and limitless possibilities they struggle to know where to start. Their mind seizes with too many questions going on at once, and they give up.
SCAMPER is a tool that has been created to break the possibilities down into more manageable chunks. It is simply an acronym created out of the first letters of different transformations that might be considered in changing or developing a basic idea or situation. The idea is that people work through the possibilities one step at a time, by considering what might be:
- Substituted – by replacing some aspect or feature with something else
- Combined – by joining it with something else
- Adapted – to better align different aspects about it or what it is doing
- Modified – by arbitrarily changing its characteristics in some way, in particular in respect of Magnifying or Minimising some component of how it works
- Put to a different use – by thinking where else it might be applied or connected
- Eliminated – by considering the implications (positive and negative) of removing some aspects of its structure or functionality
- Reversed – by considering how our understanding of the situation might be turned upside down or inside out to see the possibilities in a different way
The challenge in being creative is to end up with a vast list of possibilities rather than a short-list of certainties.
It is true that one leads to the other, but too often our approach to ‘creativity’ tries to take us there directly. SCAMPER helps to overcome this by welcoming off-the-wall ideas as a nominal answer to its perverse questions. Everybody can come up with a reasonable list of possibilities if they properly engage with SCAMPER – and narrowing down that list is the easy part. The trick to finding sufficiently valuable nuggets is taking a large enough seive-full of sand and river-water.
Think of SCAMPER as a checklist of ‘Flash card perspectives’ that can be used as part of a brainstorming process.