Need some creative answers? Well like most things in life, if you need the right answer, you need to know the proper question to ask. Seems obvious, right? Good. That will make this much easier to write. When the need pops up for non-obvious solutions, it's too easy to find ourselves in a "thinking rut," that stops us from generating some new or different answers. That's when it's time for some creative questions.

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Guidelines for Creative Thinking

So here's a list of questions you can use when you're stuck. Use these questions with an open mind, keeping in mind the guidelines for creative thinking:

  • Defer judgment — don't worry about whether the answer is right or wrong yet, just give your mind the right to answer without punishment.
  • Strive for quantity — seek out lots of ideas, at least thirty to start with. Don''t settle for the first answer that you come up with. Stop focusing on the right idea and start looking for lots of ideas.
  • Seek wild and unusual ideas — great creative thinking is not limited by the known, the usual, the expected, or even the practical. It's driven by looking for the out-of-the-box/circle/triangle, never-been-done-before ideas. Search out and welcome them.
  • Combine and build on other ideas — let one idea spark another idea, and another idea, and another idea.

When you've agreed to use these guidelines, you're ready to look creatively at your challenge by using this list of questions. Of course keep in mind that some of these questions will help you, and some of them won't, depending on the challenge. So if you ask it and you draw a blank, well, that's okay. Move on to the next one. But give yourself at least a minute to turn it over in your mind to make sure there aren't some hidden solutions that are just taking longer to pop into your consciousness.

Question Checklist:


In order to solve your challenge, what can you substitute? Are there parts, materials, ingredients or segments that can be swapped out? Would this work better somewhere else? What about taking something that doesn't belong here and seeing if it fits anyway? Example: SugarPops became CornPops, a more nutrition-conscious cereal. Romeo and Juliet inspired West Side Story with the substitution of a new context.


In order to solve your challenge, what can you combine? Is there a blend of ingredients, appeals, colors, or flavors that might work? What can you add in from another department? Will certain products or processes fit together well? Example: Lipton combined fruits and flavors with its tea to develop new iced teas. Dodge put it's V-10 truck engine in a swoopy sports car and created an image-maker called the Viper.


In order to solve your challenge, what can you adapt? Is there something that can be brought over to work in your context? Can we "borrow" an idea from a competitor or another industry to address the problem? Example: Sony adapted the Walkman idea and created the Watchman TV. Many electronics manufacturers have "borrowed" the concept of the original Palm Pilot and fitted it with Windows CE in order to create a wide range of look-alike products. Chevy sold large volumes of Tahoe Sport Utility Vehicles, and adapted the truck to become a Cadillac Escalade.

Magnify or Minimize:

In order to solve your challenge, what can your make larger or smaller? Is there something from the process, price, strategy or offering that can be changed? What can be added, lengthened, strengthened or subtracted? What about changing the focus from one aspect to another to make it more, or less, significant? Example: Ford's Explorer was incredibly successful and yielded huge profits. So they created the even bigger Expedition and Lincoln Navigator. Next is the even bigger Excursion.

Put to Other Uses:

In order to solve your challenge, can you put it to some other use? Is there a way to use it differently to make the product or organization more effective or efficient? Can we take something from somewhere else and make it work entirely differently in order to make life better? Example: Viagara was unsuccessful at treating heart angina, but successfully treated another dysfunction. In the past 20 years, Arm & Hammer baking soda went from being merely a cooking ingredient into a refrigerator and underarm deodorant, and a toothpaste ingredient.


In order to solve your challenge, is there something that we can eliminate? Can we stop doing what we're trying to fix? Can we simplify the process by removing steps? Is there a way of working smarter by reducing the complexity? Example: Saturn removed commissioned car salespeople and negotiation, and created a car-shopping experience that is free of fear and dickering. The CEO at Kraft banned presentation decks and created more time for productive work. AT&T's premium Personal Network plan members receive a phone number where you speak directly with a live person… they eliminated the automated switchboard system and positioned it as a benefit.

Reverse or rearrange:

In order to solve your challenge, is there some way to reverse, transpose or rearrange the order? Can we change the focus to look at it backwards first? Is there a way to reverse-engineer what we're doing in order to discover a new solution? Example: Reverse the physics of a cold Thermos and you have a hot Thermos. Mike Fryan, a research scientist at Clorox ended a 77 year problem of how to keep a product from rusting when it dried, by informing consumers to keep the product wet so it won't rust!

Here's where it's clever:

An easy way to remember this is with the acronym: SCAMPER. First developed by Alex Osborn and aconym-ized by Bob Eberle, these questions fit any situation, some better than others. When you get stuck, look at the challenge from these perspectives in order to break loose the solution for you. With the right creative mind-set, some of the answers may surprise you, and give you some great solutions. Happy SCAMPERing! •

Next: Creating the Elevator Speech

©2004 Jonathan Vehar. All rights reserved.