Novel Thinking: NYC Subway Tokens

In our Novel and Adaptive Thinking module we profile SCAMPER as a technique for generating new, fresh (or Novel) ideas. Whilst there is a general trend toward bringing innovation and creativity out from siloed functions into the general workforce many of us don’t see ourselves as inventors. At we are enamoured with SCAMPER as it works really well within the reality of workplaces we are familiar with; most of us probably aren’t tasked with creating something entirely new but of solving existing problems using whatever we have at hand.

The SCAMPER framework was developed originally by Alex Osborne in 1953 then augmented by Robert Eberle in his 1971 book SCAMPER: Games for Imagination Development which you can still buy ( SCAMPER stands for:

  • Substitute
  • Combine
  • Adjust
  • Modify
  • Put to other uses
  • Eliminate
  • Reverse

When faced with designing a solution to a problem you can use any (a combination or all) of these approaches as a way to frame ideas.

The humble subway token came into the world in 1953 as a solution to a problem that had its genesis in the design of the turnstiles installed in every station across the New York City subway system. Designed initially to accept a 5 cent coin (nickle) a challenge presented itself when the fare rose to 10 cents (dime): this smaller coin didn’t fit the turnstile slot. Engineers at the New York City Transit Authority chose to Modify the turnstiles at a great cost to the underground transit system. It didn’t take long for the problem to present itself again when the fare price rose to 15 cents. This time engineers looked at the problem through a different lens. Instead of again modifying the turnstile their attention turned to the coin itself – what if they created a Substitute to a coin that operated as a default subway currency? This solution required no modification of infrastructure and offered a cost effective, sustainable, scalable solution to a significant challenge. And you didn’t have to be an engineer to conceive it!

Learn more about SCAMPER and other tools, frameworks and techniques to build your Novel Thinking capabilities by enrolling in our Novel and Adaptive Thinking Masterclass. You can read about scope and learning outcomes and discover the brilliant N and AT Skills Coach CJ Mills here.

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