For many people, the word "brainstorming" calls to mind images of people sitting in a room shouting out idea after idea as someone takes notes. Later, management runs with the most bizarre and dysfunctional of the ideas suggested.
But "small-business brainstorming" needs a little more structure and focus than that: It requires a balance between staying on point to avoid wasting time and letting everybody involved feel uninhibited as they come up with ideas.
The SCAMPER method, invented by teaching expert Bob Eberle, is ideal for this kind of brainstorming. If you're looking for a solution to a nagging business problem—whether it's how to attract more customers, streamline a process or strategize your next marketing campaign—the SCAMPER method can keep you on task with impressive results. It lets you think creatively, while providing a framework that maintains focus and prompts new ideas.
So what does SCAMPER stand for?
Take out something old, and replace it with something new. This can be as simple as swapping out the drinks menu at your restaurant or as complex as finding a new manufacturer for some of your widgets' components.
Put two or more things together in a new way, a way you haven't done before. For instance, a gift shop might display their scarves in the jewelry section instead of with the outerwear. Or a law firm might partner with a financial adviser for a combined financial welfare publicity effort.
Keep on top of the trends, and look to see what others in your industry are doing. In order to stay relevant, you need to adapt to changes in your industry.
Minimize Or Maximize
The no-brainer here is minimizing expenses and maximizing income, but you can push through to other, more creative ideas that can help you achieve that obvious goal. Is there something you make or do that could be blown up, either conceptually in advertising or literally in how much importance you give to it? Conversely, is there a bottleneck in your process with an impact you would like to reduce?
Put To Another Use
The "killer app" here is to find new ways to use or sell what you already have or sell. Black Friday loss leaders are a well-known example: Stores mark down electronics to get people in their stores, while often marking up the accessories. (Those electronics are used as bait.) Think of other ways you could recycle your stock, processes, ideas and overage.
Thoreau wasn't the only wise person to recommend simplification as a route to attaining your goals. Most businesses are great at adding new things but are less skilled at removing what's no longer needed or relevant. How many things—be they "junk words" on your website or storage rooms of who-knows-what—can you remove to make your company faster and leaner?
Reverse Or Rearrange
Some things that work poorly in one direction work better the other way. Other things can benefit from being disassembled and put back together in a new order. Not every company has the time or resources to do this to major processes, but start with some of your smaller functions and see what happens.
You'll notice many of the points in SCAMPER overlap with one another. That's OK. The important thing is to get your employees thinking this way. Try it out in your next team's meeting to see what comes from it.
Jason Brick has contributed more than 2,000 blog and magazine articles to local, regional and national publications and speaks regularly at writing and business conferences. You can find out more about Jason at www.brickcommajason.com.
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