SCAMPER at Halloween – how to energise a dull idea

50 questions to explode your ideas, and 8 real examples on sale today

SCAMPER is a technique to spark your creative thinking even when your ideas are stuck. It comprises a checklist of questions designed to help you expand an idea into new territory. The technique is an established brainstorming tool that can be implemented in all areas of your life.

Scary Halloween dummy

SCAMPER is based on the concept that every new idea is a modification of an idea that already exists. Each letter in the mnemonic represents a different way you can trigger new ideas:

  • S = Substitute a part of the idea
  • C = Combine it with something else
  • A = Adapt something (such as an existing product or idea)
  • M = Magnify or Minify (change attributes such as size, shape or texture)
  • P = Put to Other Uses (perhaps for a different user group)
  • E = Eliminate part of the idea (or simplify it)
  • R = Rearrange or Reverse (change the order of operations, turn it inside-out)

Using the technique is easy. First be clear about the problem or idea that you’d like to develop – it can be anything from developing a new product to solving a challenge in your personal life. You then simply examine it using the SCAMPER checklist of questions. These questions force you to look at the idea from different angles, prompting a whole new set of innovative solutions.


The first step is to ask yourself if there’s any aspect of the problem or idea that you could substitute with something else. Consider even the most essential item and allow yourself to be outrageous – you can always discard silly ideas at a later stage. Anything is subject to being substituted – parts of a product, steps in the process, a place, the people and even emotions.

Instead of just asking ‘What can I substitute?’, ask yourself some of these more specific questions:

  • Can I replace or change any parts, technology or ingredients?
  • Can I use other processes or procedures?
  • Can the rules or instructions be changed?
  • Can I change my feelings or attitude towards it?
  • Can I use a different source of energy?
  • How does it change if I change the name?
  • Can I replace someone involved?
  • Can I use this idea in a different place?

Keywords for questions about Substituting:

Alternative, recolour, exchange, rename, repackage, replace, reposition, reshape, swap, switch, stand in for, take the place of.


The second step is to consider how to combine two or more elements of the idea, or adding it to another product altogether.

Keywords for questions about Combining:

Amalgamate, blend, bring together, come together, fuse, join, link, merge, mingle, mix, package, unite.


The third step is to ask yourself if there’s an existing idea which you can adapt to fit your idea. Look for items with similar attributes and meld the ideas together – or look for opposites for a startling effect, such as a homely gnome and a zombie…

Keywords for questions about Adapting:

Alternative, recolour, exchange, rename, repackage, replace, reposition, reshape, swap, switch, stand in for, take the place of.


The fourth step is to ask what happens if you magnify or minify your idea, or perhaps a part of it. Changing the importance of components can give you knew insights about what is most important, especially if taken to the extreme.

  • What can be magnified or made larger?
  • What can be made higher, bigger or more durable?
  • In what ways can it be smaller, lighter, or more compact?
  • Can anything be embellished, exaggerated or overstated?
  • Could it be portable?
  • What additional features could be added?
  • Does changing the size create new uses?

Keywords for questions about Magnifying or Minifying:

Amplify, augment, boost, enlarge, expand, extend, grow, heighten, increase, intensify, lengthen, multiply, emphasise, stress, raise, strentghen, shrink, lessen, play down, decrease, downplay, prune, abbreviate, lighten, shorten.


The fifth step is to ask how you can take your idea and put it to other uses, or consider what you could reuse from somewhere else in order to solve your problem.

This condiment dispenser uses a gun as a tool to squirt sauce. It wasn’t designed as a Halloween idea but I’m putting it to another use.

  • What else can it be used for?
  • Can I use this idea in other markets?
  • Is there another product that can do parts of the same thing?
  • Who else could use it?
  • How would a child use it or play with it? Would it be used differently by an older person? Someone with disabilities?
  • If I knew nothing about it, would I understand what it was used for?
  • Does the byproduct/waste product have another use?

Keywords for questions about Putting to another use:

Re-use, re-cycle, convert, salvage, appropriate, apply, benefit, draw on, employ, enjoy, enlist, exercise, exploit, abuse, make use of, manage, manipulate, reposition, source, take advantage of, utilise, put to use.


The sixth step is to ask what you can eliminate from your idea. Aim to simplify your idea or its components leaving only the essentials. This step is closely related to Minify as some elements may be better minified than eliminated altogether. If you think of it as finding the essence of an idea you can strip away things you don’t need to tell the story. An example would be using one glove to represent a bigger whole.

Keywords for questions about Eliminating:

Control, curb, disregard, do away with, eradicate, exclude, get rid of, jettison, kill, limit, reject, remove, simplify, throw out.


The seventh and final step is to ask what you can rearrange or reverse. Think of your idea working in reverse or in a different order. So if red rose petals mean romance change them to a colour that means the opposite…

Keywords for questions about Rearranging:

Opposite, flip, cancel, undo, back up, go backward, invert, overturn, reorder, reorganise, reposition, reshuffle, swap, switch, transpose, turn around.

SCAMPER leads your mind to examine ideas from different perspecitves. The possiblities can be stretched into unforeseen places. As such it provides a systematic technique for discovering opportunities that may otherwise remain hidden. The alternative is to settle with what you’ve got, take it to market and let someone else see the potential…

You can discover more insights in our section covering Creative Thinking. It’s particularly worthwhile to combine this technique with 6 steps to find your solid gold business idea.


SCAMPER at Halloween – how to energise a dull idea
SCAMPER at Halloween – how to energise a dull idea
SCAMPER is a technique to spark your creative thinking. It uses a systematic checklist of questions to expand an idea into new dimensions.
  • Hello, Donald,

    What a wonderful and creative post you’ve made here! Using an acrostic is an excellent way to remember the different points and elements you brought out, ingenious. :-)

    I really like the idea of substituting a part of the idea and eliminating part of the idea. Your example of McDonald’s founder really brings the point home.

    I also like your magnifying or minifying point. During the last six months I have done quite a bit to simplify my business – minimizing anything that could be minimized and keeping things very simple.

    Thank you for your thought-provoking article, and I have already shared on Twitter.

    Have a wonderful weekend.

    – Carol

    • Thank you, Carol, I’ve used this technique in the past but I’m going to make it a rule from now on…

      I don’t expect people will use it systematically but I think the example of MacDonald’s could open people’s eyes. I’m pleased you liked it!

      Have a nice weekend, I bet you’ll spend most of it looking at baby pictures.