Digital Innovation for energy startups // Tech Founder // Proud Nerd
Finding new ideas is a non-trivial exercise, and it's even more difficult to lead a team through the process of generating them: but with the scamper method you will have a real tool for generating and expanding ideas.
Monday morning. You drink your second coffee avidly, hurrying into the meeting room, where your team of engineers and developers await you impatiently.
Your company's flagship product, the computer mouse, is selling less than expected, and current fiscal year closed with sales and profits down. The CEO asks to run for cover.
We must innovate!
It's the mantra that echoes in the company's hallway. And you, as the Product Manager in charge, are called to carry out this mission.
I think you'll be familiar with the scenario I've pictured, aside from the specific product (unless you work at Logitech, I suppose :) ).
How to deal with such a situation? Finding new ideas is a non-trivial exercise, and it's even more difficult to lead a team through the process of generating them.
It takes creativity and inspiration, but also some discipline and steady hand to extract value from the brainstorming session and prevent it from degenerating into a mess.
Today I want to give you a real tool to deal with this situation. A tool, ready to use, with a proper set of instructions. Let's talk about the SCAMPER method.
SCAMPER: IDEA GENERATOR
The SCAMPER method is one of the many techniques that can be used to generate ideas. The acronym, to be precise, leads back to the following activities:
Substitute: Try to replace some of the product features.
Combine: Try to combine the product with something else.
Adapt: Try to make the product more functional.
Modify: Try to modify some product features.
Put to other use: Try changing the intended use of the product.
Delete: Try to delete product elements.
Reverse/Rearrange: Try reversing the product or evolving it into something new.
This method was initially theorized by Alex Faickney Osborn in 1953 (the OG inventor of the term "brainstorming", yup). Subsequently the SCAMPER was taken up and reworked in numerous texts and studies concerning the generation of ideas and the creative approach to business problems (for example I discovered it by reading the excellent text by Michael Michalko, Thinkertoys).
But now back to our Product Manager dealing with his mouse.
Everyone is waiting for his instructions. And he is not caught unprepared, starting to distribute post-its, markers and attaching to the wall several large images of their product, a beautiful and traditional mouse like those all of us have on our desks.
First he explains to the team the basics of the SCAMPER approach, then they all get to work together.
THE METHOD IN ACTION
That's what they can produce after an hour of exercise:
Substitute: one of the engineers often has sweaty hands and the plastic coating of his mouse, after hours of prolonged use, becomes sticky and unpleasant to the touch. He proposes to use an interchangeable rubber coating that ensures better grip, one that you can easily disassemble and wash in the office sink and maybe customize it (for example selling it in different colors and patterns).
Combine: one of the youngest members of the team uses her computer to listen to music, and after setting up his favorite playlist on Spotify, she devotes himself to something else (cooking, reading, chilling with his boyfriend). She then suggests combining the functions of a mouse to the one of a small stereo speaker. An additional speaker is integrated into the device to give more power to the computer's audio, and then placed in strategic positions as a real bluetooth speaker. Quite useful to enhance the soft speakers of a laptop.
Adapt: everyone agrees that the mouse currently in production works very well with its standard pad. But engineers often work from impromptu locations, such as coffee shops, on the train, on the bus, or on the table in their grandma's home kitchen. They decided to increase the sensitivity of the optical reader so that the mouse would work well even on the most difficult surfaces.
Modify: One of the developers present at the meeting complains that having to lock and unlock the laptop after every break is very nerve-racking and not very intuitive. They understand that the mouse is a connection tool between the user's body and the device, so they insert a fingerprint reader in the left mouse button. In this way, the computer can be easily unlocked with the fingerprint of the legitimate owner of the workstation, just handling the mouse.
Put to other use: a team member devoted to trail running and therefore used to wear smartwatches, suggests inserting a heart rate monitor in the mouse, which can then detect the user's heartbeat and track it. In case of stress conditions or anomalies, the mouse, through a simple application, can suggest the user to take a break and take a walk. It might be nice to insert a sort of traffic light on the mouse with colored LEDs to indicate the state of health of those who are using it.
Eliminate: someone wonders why the mouse should have buttons. In fact, they agree that it is possible to eliminate them altogether and instead insert a simple infrared sensor, which records the action based on the movement of the user's fingers and gestures on the desk.
Reverse: the mouse is an input device, so the opposite could be to turn it into an output system! Equipping the mouse with a pair of wheels and a pen, and connecting it to the PC with an Arduino interface, it becomes an object that can replicate on paper the traces that the user has loaded on the screen.
The advantage of having a common brainstorming method is that everyone knows which direction to follow, and even the most introverted feel facilitated in proposing their ideas and come forward. All colleagues have proactively suggested solutions and proposals, also elaborating among themselves the concepts that were put on the table, always being careful to be proactive and additive instead than negative and destructive.
At the end of the meeting everyone looks satisfied. There are many ideas on the table, and now they can start to investigate in order to understand which of those proposals will fit company's need.
The engineers would probably create one or more MVPs (Minimum Viable Products) and then test it on a small base of inspired users (early adopters). The morale is high and the whole team is looking forward to work!
Remember: perfection comes with practice, so save this article and test it IRL as soon as you can!
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