As business consultant Peter Drucker once said, "You cannot predict the future, but you can create it." Many businesses strive to create the future, but few understand what it takes to get teams to create new and innovative ideas in a repeatable manner.

Over the last 25 years of my career, I've found that organizations big and small often struggle to create repeatable approaches and processes that keep them truly competitive. Fifty years ago, a little-known children's book introduced the "SCAMPER" model as way to help teachers foster creativity in their classrooms. It's an amazingly simple tool, and unbelievably powerful for pushing thinking beyond "business as usual."

Here's how it works. SCAMPER is an acronym for Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put to another use, Eliminate, and Reverse. This acronym is used to help prompt people to think differently than the norm. Each letter prompts people to answer a question related to the framework. It's flexible. Select one letter or move through them in sequence.

SCAMPER can be used to generate ideas for improving existing offerings or business processes, or innovating completely new products and services. Once a set of ideas or concepts are developed, the best ideas should be selected and further refined through sharing and testing ideas with colleagues and customers.

To make the most use of SCAMPER, consider the answers to various questions which are associated with each word:  

  • S (Substitute): Are there any different materials or resources you can use to create the products you currently make?  
  • C (Combine): Can this product or service be combined with another existing product to provide a better solution?  
  • A (Adapt): Can the product or service be adapted or adjusted to serve another audience?  
  • M (Modify): Are there features that could be modified, added, or adjusted regarding physical appearance or functionality?  
  • P (Put to another use): Are there other industries that could find this product or service useful?  
  • E (Eliminate): Is there anything from this product or service that is not necessary or can be eliminated to reduce cost or time to deliver?  
  • R (Reverse): Can the creation of this product or service be reversed or done in another order to make it more efficient or effective? 

Here's a SCAMPER template in the form of a Microsoft PowerPoint file that I developed as part of my work at Use SCAMPER for brainstorming sessions, or give it to people as part of an innovation toolkit. Either way, when teams apply the approach to what they're doing, they'll be able to come up with ideas for new products, services, processes, and business models.

SCAMPER can be as strategic or as tactical as you want, so you don't just get pie-in-the-sky ideas. You can get real solutions that focus on implementation to transform big ideas into practical opportunities.