Advertising legend Alex Osborn not only founded one of the most successful ad agencies in the world, BBDO, he also coined the phrase “brainstorming” and is credited for inventing the technique.  Later in his career, he invented another technique that is lesser-known, but one that is incredibly powerful: SCAMPER.  This name is an acronym and stands for:

ut to other use
earrange / reverse

The SCAMPER technique can take you right back to the limitless creativity you had in Kindergarten.  This structured approach has you start with a concept and then try out different variations on the theme.

For example, let’s look at the world of breakfast cereal which pretty much began with the Corn Flake (the initial “creative spark”).  Here are some ways General Mills, Kellogg’s, Quaker Oats and Post put elements of the SCAMPER technique to work in their product development efforts:

Substitute – Corn Flakes led to Bran Flakes (substitute ingredient).  Puffed Rice helped launch Rice Krispies (substitute preparation).  Substitutions can also include people, physical locations, production processes, flavors, and distribution channels.

Combine – Raisin Bran was born from combining bran flakes with raisins.  Cereal manufacturers are experts at this (Honey Nut Cheerios, Apple & Cinnamon Oatmeal).  This step is about adding a new ingredient or combining two or more existing items into one.

Adapt -Cinnamon Toast Crunch came from making a toast recipe and turning it into a cereal.  Take the all-American favorite of chocolate chip cookies, turn them into a cereal, and you have a winner – Cookie Crisp.  Fruity Pebbles was a huge hit for Post, and was adapted from the popular show the Flintstones.  (side note: same idea worked for Flintstone vitamins)

Magnify/minimize – Frosted Wheat became Frosted Mini Wheats.  Granola evolved into Low Fat Granola.  A regular box of Wheeties now comes in a giant, family-sized box.

Put to other use – Rice Krispie Treats are now packaged in separate units and sold as a competitor to the candy bar.  Corn Flakes can be used in dozens of recipes including breading for chicken and as an ingredient in stuffing.  Of course, Kellogg’s makes these recipes readily available and recommends the alternative uses.

Eliminate – Without nuts, reduced fat, sugar-free, only whole-grains, and other banners are unavoidable as you walk down the cereal aisle at your local grocery store.  Eliminating one or more aspects of a concept is a clever way to uncover brand new ideas.

Rearrange / reverse – Post launched Honey Bunches of Oats in 1989.  Today, you can enjoy your Honey Bunches packaged with Almonds, with Bananas, Peaches, Strawberries, Chocolate Clusters, Cinnamon Clusters, or Vanilla Clusters.  What did they do next?  They launched “Just Bunches”, eliminating the other elements of the cereal altogether.  This playful approach helped the company build a cereal franchise around one original product idea.

You can SCAMPER with product development, efficiency gains, HR challenges, marketing concepts, or just about any other challenge you may be facing.  Try SCAMPER’ing your way through your next problem, and you’ll be amazed at how much creativity gets unleashed.

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