In my previous post, I discussed SCAMPER – one of the most effective creative thinking methodologies that can be tested out on any challenge, opportunity, or product in need of great ideas. But how is this actually applied in real life?

Let’s take our example, a Parisian café looking for a way to wow the crowds.

Step 1: Breakdown

Break the problem down to its most basic elements and list them. It may seem obvious when you think about it, but it really helps to have the different building blocks in front of your eyes –  just as it is easier to play chess with pieces on an actual board, rather than structures in your mind.

A Parisian café would be a place to eat, socialize, do business, and of course – drink coffee;  it comprises tables, chairs, a bar, etc; you’d serve hot drinks, cold drinks, appetizers and more…. you get the rest.

Once you’ve broken your question down to attributes and elements, it’s time for…

Step 2: SCAMPER!

Essentially, each of the below is a way to apply structured manipulation on the elements you’ve listed.

  • Substitute something: Take a critical element out of the list, and try to substitute it with something else.
  • Combine: How can we combine elements? Purposes? Appeals?
  • Adapt: What else is like a café? Does the past offer a parallel? Which element can be adapted to suit a different world?
  • Modify or Magnify it: What can we extend? Exaggerate? Prolong?
  • Put it to some other use: What other uses can a café have?
  • Eliminate something: Take a critical element out of the list altogether. How can we compensate for its absence? What can we reduce? Divide?
  • Reverse or Rearrange: Observe the order of each link in the chain. What other arrangement might work better? Can we change the order of cause and effect?

Here are some sample ideas using SCAMPER:

  • Substitute: What can I replace the tables with? How about… libraries? Each table would include literature from a different genre; choose your spot by the lit you love and meet like-minded people.
  • Combine: Take “eat” and “socialize” from our list; how about combining the two appeals by serving share-able food only? Cafes usually play music. How about the option to pay for your drinks by playing a short set?
  • Adapt/put it to some other use: Airport cafes help you pass the time while you wait for a flight. How about a café chain in proximity to banks, post offices and anywhere with a queue? Offer the business symbiotic queue management; offer the waiting crowds a more pleasant way to wait.
  • Reverse or Rearrange: Usually, the client pays for the food, and spends as much time as needed at the café for free. Why not reverse that? Get the coffee for free – pay for the time you spend at the café.

So – which of these ideas did the newly established Parisian café choose to ground a competitive advantage? Here’s your answer. Based on a Russian concept, the café allows its patrons to do anything – eat, drink, talk business, play, anything – all for a few euros an hour. The emphasis is shifted from eating/drinking to socializing, creating a multi-functional space for exploration.

If you use SCAMPER to analyze the idea, you will find there’s more than one link to the final idea (eliminate payment for food; compensate by charging for time; combine a café with a boardroom/living room; rearrange the process to payment first, then eating; etc.).

The real strength of this method is the straightforward way to create wide variety of ideas on the way to that brilliant solution. Many of SCAMPER’s manipulations may seem funny at first (“Café with free food? Weird!”), and this is where they draw their power – from the effort to get out of our usual patterns, into uncharted creative territory.