SCAMPER is a checklist of idea-spurring questions. Some of the questions were first suggested by Alex Osborn, a pioneer teacher of creativity. They were later arranged by Bob Eberle into this mnemonic.

S = Substitute?

C = Combine?

A = Adapt?

M = Modify? = Magnify?

P – Put to other uses?

E = Eliminate or minify?

R = Reverse? = Rearrange?


  1. Isolate the challenge or subject you want to think about. Ask SCAMPER questions about each step of the challenge or subject and see what new ideas emerge. Asking the questions is like tapping all over the challenge with a hammer to see where the hollow spots are.

Consider the challenge: “In what ways might I improve my selling techniques?” First, identify all the stages in the selling process (i.e., prospecting, presenting, overcoming objections, closing, follow-up, paperwork, time management, and so on.) Then, ask SCAMPER questions to generate a wide variety of ideas about reshaping and manipulating each stage of the selling process.

            For instance, let’s say you have decided to isolate “prospecting.” Now apply SCAMPER to that one step. Ask yourself:

@BL: • What procedure can I <I>substitute<I> for my current one?

How can I <I>combine<I> prospecting with some other procedure?

• What can I <I>adapt<I> or copy from someone else’s prospecting methods?

• How can I <I>modify<I> or alter the way I prospect?

• What can I <I>magnify<I> or add to the way I prospect?

• How can I <I>put<I> my prospecting <I>to other uses<I>?

• What can I <I>eliminate<I> from the way I prospect?

• What is the <I>reverse<I> of prospecting?

• What <I>rearrangement<I> of prospecting procedures might be better?

Prod your imagination with SCAMPER questions, and then continue asking “How can . . . ?” “What else . . . ?” “How else . . . ?” If you do this for each stage of the selling process, you will generate the maximum number of ideas for improving your selling techniques.

Scampering Burgers.

Ray Kroc was a middle-class high-school dropout, a former piano player and real estate salesman who sold paper cups for seventeen years. In his fifties, Ray Kroc left the paper cup business and hit the road selling Multimixers, a little machine that could make six milkshakes at a time.

            One day in 1954, a little hamburger stand ordered eight Multimixers. Curious, Kroc drove his dusty little car out to investigate. He was stunned by the volume of business that Dick and Maurice McDonald were doing. They had unwittingly hit on the concept of fast food—homogenized, predictable items that are quick and easy to prepare. The McDonalds had simplified, economized, and minimized the hamburger stand.

            Kroc and the McDonalds formed a partnership that allowed Kroc to find new sites, and open and run them. What followed was not instant success, but obstacles and challenges. Ray Kroc became a billionaire because he identified the right challenges and manipulated existing information into new ideas to solve them. Following are some of the challenges he faced and how the SCAMPER principles shaped his ideas:

SUBSTITUTE? Problem: The McDonalds proved to be lethargic business partners. Kroc was worried that they might sell out to someone who didn’t want him around.

            SCAMPER Solution: Substitute a different partner. Kroc was cash poor, but he was determined to buy out the McDonalds. Kroc raised the $2.7 million asking price from John Bristol, a venture capitalist whose clients (college endowment funds) realized a $14 million return on their investment. The next substitution was to go public, which he did in 1963, making many investors rich.

COMBINE? Problem: Ray Kroc’s first hamburger stand was planned for Des Plaines, Illinois, but he couldn’t afford to finance construction.

            SCAMPER Solution: Combine purposes with someone else. He sold the construction company half-ownership in return for constructing his first building.

ADAPT? Problem: Ray Kroc was interested in developing a new twist on the food business but he lacked ideas.

            SCAMPER Solution: Adapt someone else’s idea. Kroc was amazed at the volume of business the McDonalds were doing by selling a hamburger in a paper bag here, or a helping of french fries there. Kroc’s big idea was adapting the McDonalds’ simple merchandising methods to create a brand new concept—fast food.

MODIFY? Problem: The french fries made in Kroc’s first stand in Illinois didn’t taste like the originals; they were tasteless and mushy. He tried the McDonalds’ recipe again and again, to no avail. A friend finally solved the mystery—Kroc stored his potatoes in the basement, while the McDonalds’ kept theirs outside in chicken-wire bins, exposed to dessert winds that cured the potatoes. He modified his storage area by installing large electric fans in the basement.

  SCAMPER Solution: Modify the storage area. Kroc cured the potatoes by installing large electric fans in the basement.

MAGNIFY? Problem: A number of franchise owners wanted to expand the basic menu.

            SCAMPER Solution: Exaggerate the burger and add new items to the menu. He created the popular “Big Mac” by way of a $10 million dollar “Build a Big Mac” contest. Later additions included the Egg McMuffin, Filet-o-Fish, and Chicken McNuggets.

PUT TO OTHER USES? Problem: Kroc needed to develop other sources of income.

           SCAMPER Solution: Get McDonald’s into the real estate business. Kroc’s company would lease and develop a site, then re-lease it to the franchisee, who would have to pay rent as well as franchise fees. Today, 10 percent of the company’s revenue comes from rentals. In the 1960s, Kroc also bought back as many of the original sites as he could. While this policy initially accrued huge debts, it gave McDonald’s the upper hand against competitors, who periodically face massive rent hikes.

ELIMINATE? Problem. Hamburger patty distributors packed their burgers in a way that was efficient for them, but meant that McDonald’s employees had to restack them to keep the bottom patties from getting crushed.

            SCAMPER Solution: Eliminate the problem. Kroc refused to do business with packagers unless they shipped fewer burgers in each stack. Employees no longer had to restack burgers, saving McDonald’s time and money. He also eliminated the middle man by buying entire crops of Idaho Russet Burbank potatoes.

REARRANGE?: Problem: Kroc wanted to differentiate his establishments from the competition.

            SCAMPER Solution: Rearrange the architecture. Kroc kept changing the original red-and-white, box-shaped prototype, adding seating in the 1960s and drive-through in the 1970s.

            Even the hot dog, as we know it, is the result of asking the right SCAMPER question at the right time. In 1904, Antoine Feutchwanger was selling sausages at the Louisiana Exposition. First he tried offering them on individual plates, but this proved too expensive. He then offered his customers white cotton gloves to keep the franks from burning their fingers. The gloves were expensive, too, and customers tended to walk off with them. Antoine and his brother-in-law, a baker, sat down to figure out what inexpensive item could be ADDED of MAGNIFIED to the frankfurter to prevent people from burning their fingers. His brother-in-law said something like “What if I baked a long bun and slit it to hold the frank? Then you can sell the franks, and I can sell you the buns. Who knows, it might catch on.”

ABOUT Michael Michalko

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