The SCAMPER Method (Part I)

When the McAllen Chamber of Commerce works with start-ups or very early-stage businesses and discusses how they can enhance their products or services, we use the SCAMPER method. The process is a series of questions designed to start the thought process of improving or driving an innovation for a product or service. Many people think there needs to be an “AHA” moment, but most innovations or new concepts don’t work that way.

A person does not need to be a Steve Jobs or Albert Einstein to have a breakthrough. The process is quite simple, and it only requires being able to ask hard questions of the product or service. At the McAllen Chamber of Commerce, we use design thinking, which requires the business owners or founders to think from their customer’s perspective, and the customer’s burning problem. Here are the essential elements of the SCAMPER method:

1.“S” is for Substitute – Take away a part of the selected thing, concept, or situation and replace it with something else. Anything can be an item for substitution – parts, processes, people, places. The substitution is the process of trial and error until you can determine the correct fit. Here are nine questions for Substitution:

  • What resources or materials can be swapped or substituted to enhance a product?
  • What process or product could be utilized?
  • Can you use other materials or ingredients?
  • Can you change the color, sound, smell, or texture?
  • Can you modify its shape?
  • Which rules or procedures can you substitute or change?
  • Can you utilize the idea in another place or process?
  • What if you changed the people involved?
  • What if you modified your attitude or feelings toward the product?

Some examples of Substitution would be a plane maker using composite material instead of aluminum; the changing feelings toward cannabis for medical and recreational use; Uber using contract labor for drivers instead of hiring their own staff.

2.“C” is for Combine – Think about combining elements of a situation or problem the customer is facing; think of something new. The experts tell us that combining things is a fast way toward creativity and creating something new. Here are six questions to ask when considering combining elements:

  • What parts, ideas, or materials could we possibly combine?
  • What could be combined to optimize use?
  • What could be the result of combining the product in question with another to develop something new? 
  • What would be the result of combining objectives or purposes?
  • How can we combine resources and talent to develop a new way of thinking directed at a product?
  • Can different elements be combined to enhance it?

Examples of combining would be putting iron and tin together to make a stronger alloy – bronze — or putting together a phone and copier and getting a fax machine. Other examples are an alarm and clock combined for an alarm clock; a trolley and suitcase to get a suitcase with wheels. Combining can bring significant breakthroughs.