Brainstorming for Creativity & Innovation : Osborn’s Checklist

It is easier to tone down a wild idea than to think up a new one.- Alex Osborn

Alexander Osborn, the godfather of brainstorming.He was a master at using perspective changes to suggest new ideas. He developed a list of 73 idea spurring questions designed to create new perspectives. This ideation method was called Osborn’s Checklist.

Osborn’s checklist is also known as SCAMPER — Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify/Magnify, Put to other uses, Eliminate, Reverse/Rearrange. Under all these key words there are different sub-questions that will get the team going.

It is mainly a product improvement technique. It involves applying a series of words contained in a checklist or a table to an existing product or service or their attributes.

Osborn’s Checklist

When brainstorming ways to improve a product, the checklist invites you to use questions (like the ones below).

Adapt : What other product is like this one ? What else is like this? What other idea does this suggest? Does past offer parallel? What could we copy? Whom could we emulate?

Modify: How could I change this product ? Change meaning, colour, motion, sound, odour, form, shape etc

Magnify: How could I add to this product ? More time? Greater frequency? Stronger? Higher? Longer? Thicker? Extra value? Plus ingredient? Duplicate? Multiply? Exaggerate?

Minify : What could I take away from this product ? Smaller? Condensed? Miniature? Lower? Shorter? Lighter? Omit? Streamline? Split up? Understate?

Substitute : What could I use instead of this product or a portion of it ? Who else instead? What else instead? Other ingredient? Other material? Other process? Other power? Other approach? Other tone of voice?

Rearrange :How could I alter this product’s composition? Interchange components? Other pattern? Other layout? Other sequence? Transpose cause and effect? Change pace? Change schedule?

Reverse : How could I turn this problem around ? Transpose positive and negative? How about opposites? Turn it backward? Turn it upside down? Reverse role? Change shoes? Turn tables?

Combine : What could I put together to make a new product ? How about a blend, an alloy, an assortment, an ensemble? Combine units? Combine purposes? Combine appeals? Combine ideas?

Assume that the challenge is to find out ways to improve stapler. Some samples using Osborn’s checklist

Adapt : What other product is like this one ? Design a stapler that fastens without staples (stapler pins), just by pressing papers together.Example : A pair of pliers is quite similar to stapler and can be used to press things together.

Modify: How could I change this product ? Using bright metallic paint for staplers instead of steel.

Magnify: How could I add to this product ? Enlarging stapler’s top to make it ergonomic to fit properly in hands.

Minify : What could I take away from this product ? Designing a stapler that dispenses both small and large staples.(stapler pins)

Substitute : What could I use instead of this product or a portion of it ? Make a line of staplers of different materials like cardboard, polished wood, plastic, fibre-glass etc

Rearrange :How could I alter this product’s composition? Design a stapler that can staple from either ends.

Reverse : How could I turn this problem around ? Design a staple that works by pulling up on a handle instead of pressing down.

Combine : What could I put together to make a new product ? Designing a combination stapler with a punch facility or a magnetic clip dispenser.

We can leverage Osborn’s checklist further by converting it into a bubble map with 4 Ps, primary elements of marketing for brainstorming .

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