Can you innovate and improve business performance by copying another company from an entirely different industry? This is what the Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital in Michigan did when it wanted to transform its customer service and operational efficiency. The hospital borrowed some of the practices of a five star hotel and hired a new CEO who had previously worked for Ritz Carlton. The hospital copied the hotel’s emphasis on customer service and high catering standards. Hotel rooms are standardized and designed to be easy to clean so the hospital did the same with its operating rooms and wards to improve efficiency and sanitation. The hospital’s redesigned kitchens developed a strong reputation for locally grown organic foods and have generated new revenues by catering for corporate and community events. 
When Ray Kroc bought a small chain of restaurants from the McDonald brothers he wanted to achieve new standards in process control and assembly line techniques. He used the Ford motor company as his role model and copied the assembly line methods used there. They became the basis for the worldwide success of McDonalds. 
The German Engineering company Siemens sponsors the Hallé orchestra in the UK. The Hallé is a leading symphonic orchestra based in Manchester. This gives Siemens opportunities for corporate hospitality at sponsored concerts but the company also uses the orchestra as a role model. When managers at the local Siemens plant want to learn about leadership or teamwork they will often call in a conductor or players from the orchestra to contribute ideas. Siemens also collaborated with Hallé Concerts Society to devise a series of workshops for managers using singing to explore and deal with discomfort. 
When the Sales Director of one large company found that his sales team were not making enough cold calls he diagnosed the problem as a lack of courage. He took the British Army as his role model and asked a senior officer to come in and advise on methods to build bravery in the team. The company implemented a number of ideas including medals for outstanding performance.
To use this technique it is important to identify the aspect of the business which most needs improvement. In the examples above this involved customer service, operational efficiency, leadership, teamwork, and courage. Then choose a leading player in another field who has mastered the skills you need. If possible, form a relationship and ask for co-operation. Things which might seem obvious in their sector may be entirely new in yours. Innovate by copying your corporate role model.
Notes Described in Ten Types of Innovation by Larry Keeley  See An Assembly Line of Innovations  Release on Siemens and the Hallé employee singing workshops
Paul Sloane writes, speaks and leads workshops on creativity, innovation and leadership. He is the author of The Innovative Leader and editor of A Guide to Open Innovation and Crowdsourcing, published both published by Kogan-Page. Follow him @PaulSloane