Contrary to popular belief, Thomas Edison did not invent the light bulb; his genius, rather, was to perfect the lightbulb as a consumer item. He took an idea and elaborated on it. Not satisfied with just the light bulb, he invented a whole practical system for electric lighting, including dynamos, conduits and a means for dividing up current that could illuminate large number of bulbs. Later, when Alexander Graham Bell announced his work on the telephone in 1876, Edison immediately went to work on ways to elaborate on Bell’s work. Out of this work, the phonograph, the device that made Edison a celebrity, emerged one year later.

Peter Tchaikovsky, the brilliant Russian composer, set down his ideas in moments of intense ardor and then spent many days improving, extending or condensing his ideas. Paul Valery, the French poet, asserted that stubborn elaboration was an important component of creativity, and took great exception to the suggestion that poets receive the best part of their work from muses. He called that a concept of savages. His own labor was stubborn, we know–Valery made 250 typed drafts of his masterpiece La Jeune Parque.

In 1845, Edgar Allan Poe published “The Raven.” One year later, Poe published the critical essay “The Philosophy of Composition,” which recounted the process by which this poem emerged. We might have expected Poe, as a poet in the Romantic age, to describe the flash of divine inspiration, by which the entire poem appeared at once in an ecstatic frenzy. Yet Poe wrote that no one point in its composition is referable to divine guidance. Instead, the work proceeded methodically, step by step to its completion as he made constant modifications about every choice, from the poem’s length and themes down to single words.

Even small changes are significant. You meet a friend you haven’t seen in a while. The friend looks different. You say, “What happened to you? Did you lose weight?” But you’re wrong. You learn to your embarrassment that it’s because he has grown a mustache or she has a new hair color. Of course. How could you have missed it?

You missed it because you view your friend as a whole, so that every part of your visual image inextricably affected every other part. Change one part and the whole seemed changed. It’s the same with ideas and concepts. We view them as a whole, “a gestalt,” so that any change, no matter how minor, affects the whole and the way we see it. Consider how Manco changed the whole gestalt of their duct tape by simply changing its name to “duck” tape. Or, how the Japanese engineer Yuma Shiraishi developed a whole new entertainment concept “the home VCRC” by simply suggesting that videotapes needed to be long enough for a feature-length movie. This simple modification changed the whole gestalt of video machines and lead to the VCR revolution.

Constantly improve your ideas and the ideas of others by adding detail, depth and dimensions by elaborating on them. Physicist Ed Witten has been called the most brilliant physicist of his generation. He is the master of string theory, a field as arcane as it is fundamental: it promises to explain what matter is. Never satisfied, each morning he wakes up with the intention of improving his ideas. After you have generated as many ideas as you can, extend your ideas by elaborating on them by combining or modifying them in some fashion.

SCAMPER. Elaborate on your ideas by applying a checklist of nine creative-thinking principles that were first formally suggested by Alex Osborn and later arranged by Bob Eberle into the following mnemonic.

S = Substitute?

C = Combine?

A = Adapt?

M = Magnify? = Modify?

P = Put to other uses?

E = Eliminate?

R = Rearrange? = Reverse?

SCAMPER is based on the notion that everything new is some addition or modification of something that already exists. You take a subject and change it into something else. (E.g., drilled petroleum becomes chemical feedstock becomes synthetic rubber becomes automobile tires. Natural gas becomes polyethylene becomes milk jugs. Mined ore becomes metal becomes wire becomes parts of a motor.)

You isolate the subject you want to think about and ask a checklist of  questions to see  what new ideas and thoughts emerge. Think about any subject from improving the ordinary paperclip to reorganizing your corporation and apply the Scamper checklist of questions. You’ll find that ideas start popping up almost involuntarily, as you ask:

Can you substitute something?

Can you combine it with something else?

Can you adapt something to your subject?

Can you magnify or add to it?

Can you modify or change it in some fashion?

Can you put it to some other use?

Can you eliminate something from it?

Can you rearrange it?

What happens when you reverse it?







…………………………Michael Michalko

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