What are some alternative uses for chopsticks besides eating?

A Brainstorming Question for Product Management Interviews

How Are You Being Evaluated

This brainstorming interview question is testing whether you can think outside the box and if you can come up with creative, relevant and novel ideas. Since product managers are responsible for product vision, the interviewer wants to see whether your ideas tend to be more of the same or whether you possess divergent thinking.

Train Yourself to be More Creative

Creativity is a skill you can develop with practice. Make time every day to look for either a product or service and practice ideation by applying the concepts from SCAMPER. SCAMPER is a technique to generate multiple and different ideas. The name mnemonic stands for the actions:

S — Substitute something.

C — Combine it with something else.

A — Adapt something to it.

M — Magnify or Modify it.

P — Put it to another use.

E — Eliminate something.

R — Reverse or Rearrange it.

The objective of SCAMPER is to apply the actions to an existing product or service in order to generate new ideas for products, services or processes. Read Creative Problem Solving with SCAMPER to learn more.

Answer Structure

Before brainstorming, it is useful to start by describing the attributes of the product or service. These attributes, together with SCAMPER, will trigger associations that you can use to generate new ideas. Here is a suggestion on how to structure your process:

  • Describe the product or service: Mention the key attributes of the product or service.
  • Generate new ideas based on associations: Use the key product attributes and each letter of the SCAMPER acronym to aid you in generating more ideas about new products or services.
  • Recommend ideas (optional): Based on some criteria (e.g., cost, complexity, demand, etc.) recommend your best idea.

Answer Example

INTERVIEWEE: I would like to start by describing what chopsticks are made of and how they are used as a starting point and then brainstorm alternative uses.

INTERVIEWER: Alright.

INTERVIEWEE: Chopsticks come in pairs of equal length; they are sticks with one end smaller than the other; they are usually made of wood, bamboo or plastic; they are usually inexpensive and thus disposable; they are not too long, about a foot long; and they are usually associated with Asian cuisine as eating utensils. Now, I would like to start brainstorming about alternative uses. We could:

Association 1: Shape + Adapt + Put it to another use

  • Add a bundle of thread or hair at one end to make a painting brush.
  • Attach a fountain pen nib at the end to make a calligraphy tool.
  • Attach a lens at the end to use it as a laser lamp.
  • Add the tip of a screwdriver at one end to use as a screwdriver.
  • Attach a dime at the end and use it to open the battery enclosure of an Apple Keyboard.
  • Chopsticks + candle (melts) = edible chopsticks, jerky chopsticks

Association 2: Length + Put it to another use

  • Make a chopstick’s length adjustable to use it as a conductor’s baton or use two chopsticks to play drums.
  • Add a magnet to the end of a chopstick and use it to pick up screws.
  • Attach to a base and use it as a bagel/doughnut holder.
  • A sparkler extender to prevent burns.

Association 3: Wood + Put it to another use

  • Use it as a magic wand for children.
  • Make a picture frame out of chopsticks.
  • Use chopsticks as grilling utensils.
  • Use chopsticks to stick and pick marshmallows easily.
  • Use chopsticks as popsicle sticks.
  • Use chopsticks to stir coffee. Sell with sugar cubes that can be attached to the ends.

Association 4: Magnify + Put it to another use

  • Use multiple chopsticks to play Pick-up sticks game.

Association 5: Material + Modify + Put it to another use

  • Metal + magnets = Chopsticks stick together when put away to avoid losing them.
  • Wax + mouthwash + hollow chopsticks = Similar to Nik-L-Nip candies. After meal, bite the end of a wax chopstick to release mouthwash to freshen breath. Then chew on the wax like gum to provide lasting freshness.
  • Wood + scent = Scented chopsticks: horseradish, ginger, cinnamon, anise, rosemary.
Nik-L-Nip candy bottles
Nik-L-Nip candy bottles

Association 6: Combine it with something else + Put it to another use

  • Pegboard + chopsticks = Mount chopsticks to a pegboard to hold keys or jewelry.
  • Plants + chopsticks = Brace to help flowers grow straight.
  • Soy sauce + hollow chopsticks = Similar to a retractable pen, but instead of a spring-loaded ink cartridge, the chopsticks would have a spring-loaded soy sauce cartridge that would dispense soy sauce from a chopstick when the button is pushed.

Of all these ideas, my favorite is the wax chopsticks filled with mouthwash. I prefer this idea because I love eating sushi and would like having a quick way to freshen my breath after a meal.