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SCAMPER-a brilliant technique to get your creative muscles flexing

Often, I get stuck in my head when I’m working through a challenge, so to help shake me out of that, there are a few techniques I employ. One of my favourites is doing an activity known by the acronym SCAMPER.

This is a creative thinking technique inspired by a checklist developed by Alex Osborn, an American advertising executive, in the 1950’s and turned into the SCAMPER acronym by Bob Eberle in his 1973 book "SCAMPER: Games for Imagination Development.".

You can see what each initial of SCAMPER stands for in Fig. 1 :

Fig. 1 The SCAMPER acronym explained using text from Bob Eberle’s book "SCAMPER: Games for Imagination Development."

So how does this work? Essentially you take a product, process or concept and you apply each element to it. A technique I use in workshops when I’m introducing a group of people to SCAMPER for the first time is to take something familiar, for example, a coffee cup and ask them to come up with ideas from the “P” part: put to another use. So while looking at a familiar image of a coffee cup, like in Fig 2, people come up with other uses. The results are usually plentiful, often humorous and fast to start pouring in once folks get started. Fig 2, shows ideas that people have come up with over a range of workshops I have facilitated.

Fig 2. Image of coffee cup and assorted ideas generated by people in Creative Thinking workshops hosted by AMC/Creative Orange Studio.

As you can see, you can generate a lot of ideas in a short space of time, and that is just from one of the letters, there are 9 others that you can use to! Another hidden benefit though is that this is a great activity to flex your creative muscles. As David Gauntlett, creativity professor and author says “There’s a way of thinking about it that says that creativity is like a muscle, and if you exercise that muscle, you can learn to use your creativity better and you can operate more effectively.”[1]

Using a SCAMPER activity is for me a brilliant way to get my creative muscles going. I also like to take this one step further and combine SCAMPER & LEGO® to make models of the ideas rather than writing them down. This adds another dimension of engaging a different part of our brains, and so alternative ideas come up. Plus it can be very challenging to create a round object like a coffee cup in LEGO® which adds a layer of difficulty which can be good for pushing through.

Although, SCAMPER the 1973 book, was written for children I believe it has as much of a place for adults, and particularly adults in a business context. My dream is to see more businesses introduce playful exercises like these into their cultures. This will help people flex their creative muscles, engage their imaginations and have fun! We can use SCAMPER for a particular problem, or just as valid, for random objects or processes etc, to give all the benefits, like flexing creative muscles, of going through the process.

In conclusion, I hope you try a SCAMPER exercise today! I would be remiss not to say a big thank you to Lorna Dallas-Conte, who was one of my tutors at Central Saint Martins in London on the MA Innovation Management course I graduated from in 2019. Lorna introduced our cohort to SCAMPER and I have loved it ever since

-thank you so much Lorna!




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