Create Ideas Systematically [Yes! And Blog #142]

“What if we: Divide; Reduce; Enlarge; Adapt (use and form); Mix; Exclude; Replace; Switch?”

John Brooker


DREAMERS create ideas systematically

Systematic Idea GenerationWhen I was a student on my Masters of Business Administration (MBA) course, I regarded as sacrosanct the theories, tools and techniques we were taught. The gurus of strategy, marketing, innovation et al were demi gods and we should bow to them reverentially.

This was easy to do because as a student doing a full time job and a part time MBA, I was often short of time to think.

Having gained my qualification, I became a tutor. With time to think, I was able to cast a more appraising eye over the materials and realised the gurus were as human as me. I really started to learn the materials and began to question the theories, tools and techniques.

This was a revelation to me and I urge students to challenge the theories and bend the tools and techniques to their own ends. Whether it works or fails, they will have learned something by doing their own thinking.


This week, I was reviewing Robert Eberle’s classic mnemonic “SCAMPER”: Substitute; Combine; Adapt; Magnify / Minify; Put to other uses; Eliminate / Elaborate; Rearrange / Reverse (please see Yes! And blog 136 for a short review). You can use this tool with “What If” questions to generate ideas by challenging various aspects of a situation, service or product. It makes the process very systematic.

This works very well, however, this week I was in a curious mood and thought, “Put to other uses” is not that elegant (the “Put” on its own does not make me think of “to other uses”) and seems to be another form of “adapt” (adapt use) so I thought, “what if” I came up with my own list and my own mne…. that word which is really difficult to spell?” So I did.

Here is DREAMERS, a systematic way to generate ideas: Divide; Reduce; Enlarge; Adapt (use and form); Mix; Exclude; Replace; Switch

How to use it

First, explain your outcome e.g. “we want ideas to redesign a leather camera case that fits on a belt” (this happens to be sitting on my desk).

Now you have a choice of ways to use it.

As a group, word by word

  1. Choose one of the categories (e.g. Divide)
  2. Ask each person to consider, “What if we:
  • Divide the cover so that the lens can come out with the cover on and protect it from the rain
  • Divide the case so thatit is hinged in the middle and snaps open to let the camera out
  1. Each person records their ideas and shares them with the group, one from each person at a time
  2. Take another word and repeat; continue through all the words e.g:
  • Reduce the size by making it of plastic that sits like a skin around the camera
  • Enlarge the fastening clip so that it actually stays fastened
  • Adapt the case so that it can carry a battery and memory card
  • Mix material so that the top is waterproof
  • Exclude metal so that it does not set off metal detectors in the airport
  • Replace the single belt loop with a double belt loop so that it is more stable
  • Switch the belt holder to the front so that the camera falls in to your body rather than on to the floor when you bend over

The upside of this tool is that it is thorough and really pushes you to create ideas. The downside is it can:

  • Become a little tiring to use all the words at once
  • Take some time for the whole team to go through each word

Other ways you can use DREAMERS is:

Create competition

Split the group in to small teams and challenge them to see who can generate the most ideas using all of the words, thus adding some competition, fun and energy.

Reduce time spent

Divide the words amongst small teams (e.g. one team gets Divide and Reduce another gets Enlarge and Adapt) and reduce the time needed.


Use DREAMERS for idea generation this week. If you want to go one better and invent your own mnemonic or want to be particularly thorough, Google “verbs beginning with” and choose your verbs from the lists available there.

To Close

I urge you to:

  •  Challenge creative thinking tools all the time. Don’t just accept them as they are. Look for ways to… I was about to say adapt them, but it struck me you can use DREAMERS on them!
  • Have a good think before you buy your next camera case so that you don’t buy the one I did!

Have a dream of a week.



John Brooker I Yes! And. Think Innovatively.

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