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December 01, 2016 Thursday 07:23:55 PM IST

Scamper off into probortunity

Creative Living

Problem + Opportunity = Probortunity

Problems are not negative things that seek only solutions; they are hotbeds of opportunities. A well-defined problem often indicates its solution. Of course, it demands careful analysis and systematic exploration to design desired solutions. But to explore opportunities hidden inside a problem is much more complex. It demands a lot of intuition and creative thinking. One has to transcend virtual limitations set by the problem to reach out to the opportunities hidden therein. In order to indicate the coexistence of solution and opportunity in a problem, a new word “Probortunity” is coined. A problem is considered here as a unique opportunity and an opportunity as a unique problem. This repudiates the negative connotations attached to a “problem”. A problem is considered as the locus of opportunities. It is that synergy between a problem and opportunity indicated by the coinage probortunity. The next obvious question is: how to extract the opportunities hidden within a problem? There is a large number of relativity techniques to assist it.


SCAMPER is an effective method to mine out opportunities that abide at the heart of a problem, developed by Robert F. Eberle, an educational administrator in Edwardsville, Illinois, USA. Eberle referred to the famous 83 questions designed by Alex Osborn to facilitate his brain-storming sessions. Eberle decided to keep the list short,  simple and used the memory tool of an acronym to make it easy to learn and remember. SCAMPER stands for: S = Substitute, C = Combine, A = Adapt, M = Magnify (or Modify), P = Put to Other Uses, E = Eliminate (or Minify) and R = Rearrange (or Reverse). As the word “scamper” signifies, the SCAMPER allows playful and brisk childlike steps into discovering opportunities hidden within a problem. In matters of creativity, children are, of course, the torch-bearers! Given below is the list of sample SCAMPER questions. To make a useful reading we may keep in mind a real problem hounding you at present. It could be something related to your study, research, business, career, life, etc. Experience how SCAMPER questions lead us to explore the hidden opportunities within a given problem.


S (= substitute) Questions

S-questions are based on the possible substitution of the components, materials, places, procedures, people, ideas, styles, strategies, and even emotions involved with something else. Some typical s-questions are: Can I replace or change any part of the problem/ product? What resources or materials can I swap or substitute to enhance the product? Can I utilize other materials or ingredients? Can I use other processes or procedures to develop the product? Can I change its shape, color, roughness, sound or smell? What if I change its name? Can I substitute one part for another? Can I replace someone involved in the production? Can some rules of production be changed? Can I change my feelings or attitude towards the problem at hand? One may freewheel and develop enough number of s-questions to facilitate the movement from a problem towards an opportunity.Let us also list a few other verbs that could allow us to rephrase squestions. They include: alternate,colorize, exchange, proxy, relieve, rename, replace, reposition, reserve, surrogate, swap, and switch. One could easily find that many new products and services could be developed by asking and implementing s-questions. A typical example is the effort of Boeing to design a lighter and fuel-efficient aircraft utilizing the efficient new generation composite materials. Every big company, for that matter, develops new products and services asking s-questions.


C (= combine) Questions

Creativity depends very much on putting things together and on putting things in place. A  typical example is the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg around 1440. Gutenberg was a blacksmith by profession, working with a coin punch. He combined that technology with the technology of a grape press to come out with a movable type printing press. Combining different known technologies, a new technology took shape! Thus cquestions are important in inquiry of hidden opportunities.


Sample c-questions are: What parts, ideas or materials could be possibly combined to define a new product? Could we combine objectives or purposes of things? Could we combine resources and talents together to develop a new way of thinking? Few other verbs that could substitute c-questions include: bring together, come together, conjoin, intermix, link, mingle, package, unite, amalgamate, link, relate, and synergize.


A (=adapt) questions

Another way of developing unique concepts, products or services, is to ask questions oriented towards adaptation of the existing ones, the so called a-questions. For example: Could you take a solution from somewhere else and adapt it to suit the current problem? Could you draw similarity between the current situation and something else? Could you identify another context, where you could position the product at hand? Are there any ideas outside your field that you can incorporate to the solution of the problem at hand? Some substitutes for a-question are: acclimatize, adopt, alter, change, conceptualize, emulate, incorporate, match, readjust, revise, settle in, vary, amend, bend, conform, familiarize, make suitable, refashion, transform, revise, modify. A classical example for a-question is how Facebook adapted their products for utilization on mobile phones, instead of laptop and desktop browsers, for which it was originally designed.


M (= modify, magnify) questions

Modification and/or magnification provide another way of developing unique products. Could you change any aspect of your process or product to enhance its capability? Could you modify the shape, feel, appearance, color or form of your existing product? What aspect of the product could you make stronger to develop something new? What would happen if you have modified the processes involved in the manufacture?


Similarly we could also ask “magnification” questions or mquestions: Can you make the product bigger, higher or larger? Can you increase the frequency? What can you duplicate? Can you create multiple copies? Is it possible to include additional features or otherwise add extra value? Is it possible to raise the price by increasing value? Other verbs having similar role are: amplify, boost, expand, grow, increase, lengthen, multiply, overstress, strengthen, augment, enlarge, heighten, raise and stretch out. A typical example for new service using m-questions is Fancy hands, which altered the virtual assistant model by developing a system that facilitates distributed team to cope with the tasks, rather than making all to be seated in an office.


P (= put to other uses) questions

Another powerful method of developing alternate products and services is by asking questions that seek to use the current products and services to other uses. We may ask questions like: Is it possible to utilize this product elsewhere, maybe in another industry? Who else can utilize this product? Is it possible to recycle the product’s waste to create something new? How could a child or older person utilize it? Is it possible for people other than the intended target market to be able to use it? Can you utilize this idea in an alternative place? Can people with various disabilities utilize it? Can you utilize this idea in other industries or markets?


Some verbs to substitute p-verbs include: employ, luxuriate, manage, reposition, spend, waste, apply, employ, exhaust, handle, take advantage of, utilize. A typical example of a company that asked p-question to improve their product is Ecoscraps, who converts food waste into compost, instead of using it for landfills.


E (=eliminate) questions

Yet another category of questions that help development of innovative products are the “eliminate” questions or e-questions. For example: How can you simplify the product? What can you tone down or understate? What components you can remove without changing function? Is it possible to eliminate the rules and routines? How can you reduce cost, effort or time? How can you make it lighter, faster, smaller or more fun? What is unnecessary or non-essential? Should you break it into different parts? Some other verbs replacing e-verbs include: abolish, curb, eradicate, excrete, exterminate, jettison, lessen, liquidate, purge, reject, simplify, throw out, wipe out, destroy, exclude, and waste. The invention of Windows 8 by Microsoft to do away with a mouse can be considered an example.


R (=rearrange, reverse) questions

Finally we have questions promoting rearranging or reversing certain processes involved in the making of the product, the so called r-questions. Examples: Can you interchange existing components, patterns or lay out? Can you transpose cause and effect, negatives and positives? What if you reverse the process? What if you turned it upside down? Can you rearrange or reverse the concept involved? How could you accomplish the opposite effect? Alternate r-verbs include: adjourn, back up, change, drive backward, invalidate, overturn, put off, readjust, relocate, reorder, repeal, reschedule, retreat, switch, turn around, withdraw, annul, delay, postpone, quash, rearrange, reposition, swap and undo. A typical example of product development resorting to r-questions is Uber, who have rearranged the process by which people search for a taxi. One could easily scamper off into probortunity asking SCAMPER questions!

Dr. Varghese Panthalookaran

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