SCAMPER is a procedural idea generator
Subconscious is a creative oracle — a guide that helps you get lost in the land of ideas. How? Geists!
Geists are little bots that live in your Subconscious. They do useful things... finding connections between notes, issuing oracular provocations and gnomic utterances.
I’ve been playing with some simple command-line prototypes for Geists. They’re just little scripts that find connections between notes, and use procedural generators to construct algorithmic provocations.
Most of this probably won’t be product-ready in time for the first alpha release, but hopefully it’ll roll into Subconscious not long after.
Anyway, I’ve been digging through literature on creative methods and building up a library of “Oracular DNA” for Geists to draw from. While doing this research I ran into a really cool mental tool — SCAMPER.
SCAMPER is a design method pioneered by Alex Faickney Osborn, the person who formalized brainstorming methodologies. It’s a general-purpose idea generator.
SCAMPER is a set of verbs you can apply to any subject to rapidly generate ideas.
Modify, Magnify, Minify
Put to other uses
Each SCAMPER verb can be seen as a kind of mutation operation. If we squint we can even see some loose analogies to mutation in biological evolution. Substituting is like replacing a gene, combining is like sex, adapting is like horizontal gene transfer, putting to other uses is like exaptation, etc.
A few examples from tech:
Electric cars: substitute electric motors for fossil fuel engines.
The iPhone: combine features from an iPod, a mobile phone, and an internet browser, eliminate the hardware keyboard and magnify the screen.
Podcasts: substitute HTML for RSS and adapt RSS to deliver media.
Dockless scooters: adapt components from mobile phones, put to other uses batteries developed for electric vehicles, substitute rental for ownership.
IPFS: combine ideas from Git, Kademlia, and BitTorrent to create a new p2p hypermedia protocol.
You can use SCAMPER as a kind of mental procedural generator for evolving ideas. Take a project you’re working on, focus in on a component, part, or process, and run it through SCAMPER questions:
S: Can I substitute a material? A key ingredient? A process? What happens if I substitute an emotion? Can I substitute the packaging for something else?
C: Can I combine different components to create something new? Can I bundle things in a new way? Can I combine different use-cases, such as author and reader, or seller and buyer?
A: Can I adapt a process from somewhere else? A component from something else? Can I adapt it to existing infrastructure? Can I adjust something just 3% to create something new?
M: Can I modify the form factor? Shape? Color? Can I magnify the key idea? What happens if I magnify an attribute beyond all reason? Or minify it?
P: Can I put a component to other uses? A mechanism? A process? An idea? A set of rules? Can I transform a waste product into an input? Can I put it to use in another context? Can I translate it into another medium? Create spinoffs?
E: Can I eliminate a rule? Can I simplify it? Make it compact? Eliminate a feature? Remove a complication?
R: Can I reverse a relationship? An assumption? What happens if I reverse my point of view? Can I rearrange the sequence? The layout? The structure? Can I rearrange the components to create something new?
You can generate a large number of new ideas very quickly this way. Many of them will be bad, but some of them will be good… and you only need one of them to be good.
Update 2022-01-09: Marcin Ignac uses SCAMPER to inspire new generative art pieces.