How to improve just about anything

“What are you going to write about today?” asked Prasna Rao**

“I am not writing anything new today. Instead I am simply sharing a blog I wrote exclusively for . Apparently it was one of their best read pieces.

“Ah! Now you have found a lazy way to write a blog!”

Here is the blog that I wrote for on ‘How to improve just about anything’

I often face this problem.

How do I improve my workshop to make it more effective or interesting? Or How do I improve an article I have just written? My clients want to know how to improve an existing process or a product. I am often asked to improve a presentation or an agenda for a conference.

So how does one go about improving anything? The first step of course is to be clear of what you want: your objective.

Once that is clear, I use a very interesting method that Alex Osborn suggested. (Alex Osborn is the author of the ‘Brainstorming’ concept).

The method is called SCAMPER. SCAMPER is an acronym.

S – Substitute

C – Combine

A – Adapt

M – Maximize/Minimize/Modify

P – Put to a different use

E – Exaggerate/Enhance/Eliminate

R – Reverse/Re-arrange

Let us say I am working on a presentation. I believe that one of my existing presentations could do with a little bit of tweaking. The original presentation was for Marketing executives; the current one is for Business Heads/Entrepreneurs.

So how do I go about using SCAMPER?

I Substitute marketing examples with more business examples.

I Combine the individual sections on advertising/direct marketing etc into one section called ‘Finding/Getting customers’.

I Adapt few stories on customer retention to fit into the philosophy of Customer Centricity.

I re-look at many of my examples.

I Put those examples to a different use. For instance I rework examples on retaining customers to retaining talent.

I Eliminate many of the Global corporate theories. Instead I include home grown successes of well known Indian entrepreneurs. I also Enhance the quality of the examples by adding a few films.

I realize that this group might have very little attention span.

I therefore Reverse the sequence of my slides. Originally the sequence was to start with an issue, discuss a principle, suggest a solution and show an example. Here I start with an example, use that to generate a quick discussion, help them arrive at a key principle.

I now look at this new (improved) presentation. It has no resemblance to the original presentation. It is certainly not a rehash of the old presentation.

You can SCAMPER to improve almost anything. I used it effectively in one case to improve packaging design. The client was concerned about packaging costs – SCAMPER helped the team deliver something superior and save about 30% on materials. An Interior Design Consultant once told me that they use this method intuitively.

My biggest thrill was when I Combined the principles used by successful Carnatic music maestros with a business innovation workshop. The workshop design was unique. (Click here to read the complete inside story of how the workshop was created:

We Eliminated the powerpoint completely.

We Adapted the concept of lecture demonstrations in music to explain key innovation principles.

We Put a Coffee Table Book on Carnatic Music to a different use. It became the principal text for the workshop.

We Maximized overall experience by looking into every small detail. For instance though the workshop was in Hyatt, we insisted on a 100% South Indian Vegetarian Menu. In addition we Substituted the predictable 5 star items to food that is normally not served in 5 Star hotels. Participants were thrilled.

We Modified the registration counter to look like a traditional reception counter at a South Indian Wedding. Therefore we had Kanchipuram saree clad ladies welcoming the participants with flowers, sandal paste, sugar candy etc.

The beauty of SCAMPER is that it can help you with simple incremental improvements. Or something dramatic and completely different like the Innovation workshop using music.

It depends on your objective and more importantly your ambition and passion for differentiation or change.

Why don’t you give SCAMPER a try and tell us how it worked for you?

**Prasna Rao is an unusual friend. He appears every time I start writing something. He is almost always there when I am writing my blog. He asks questions that are razor sharp and often makes me uncomfortable. He is relentless till I answer his questions in simple, clear terms.  You might find that he is most of the times asking questions that you want to. Therefore he is on your side, while he is putting me in the dock. I call him my Uninvited Coach

Picture by familywmr available under a Creative Commons Attribution- licensed for commercial use.

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One Response to “How to improve just about anything”

  1. deepa soman says:

    Sridhar, enjoyed reading this especially the business innovation case using Carnatic Music . SCAMPER is now so intuitive [my first read was in Michael Mikalko’s book] that we sometimes post facto say, ‘ahh, now this was “A”. I often use the kitchen as a space where SCAMPER happens to almost anyone who has cooked a meal. Thanks


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