In business we have a number of ways or tools that we use to stimulate improvement. Most of us could recite these in our sleep:o Brainstormingo Benchmarkingo Problem solvingWhen these things fail, or we realize that perhaps there are better ways to do these approaches, we do the next likely thing and hire a consultant. (As a consultant, I am glad that people sometimes take this step).Each of these steps can be very valuable and powerful when done correctly. There are methods, approaches and steps that you can take to make each of these things (including hiring the consultant) more effective.The ProblemThe problem is the first three items on the list suffer from a similar problem – they all become too introspective.Brainstorming too often becomes a short list of ideas that people have considered in the past, or things people tried at their last job.Benchmarking ends up being too incestuous. If you are benchmarking within your industry, everyone in the industry is looking at each other, and the bar may never be lifted high enough.Problem solving techniques are only as good as the ideas that are found to implement, and where do those ideas come from? Brainstorming and benchmarking.The AlternativeThe alternative is a phrase called creative emulation. I learned this phrase from marketing guru Jay Abraham, who has helped hundreds of companies and individuals improve using this technique and has personally made a fortune using it and teaching it.It is incredibly simple in concept, and amazingly obvious. But most of us don’t do it often enough.Creative emulation requires studying other industries and businesses for the models and approaches that they use. Then thinking about how you could modify, adapt or “creatively emulate” their successes into your business.Some ExamplesDirect marketers have done this forever. Any good copywriting consultant tells you to build a “clip file” of ads and sales letters that are effective. By keeping this “file” of successful copy, you are able to refer to it for inspiration, ideas, unique phrases and more. The “clip file” is a perfect example of creative emulation.In leading training sessions, while there is benefit in having a whole group from the same organization, there are great benefits from having mixed audiences too – even having people from different divisions or departments in the same company can give participants new insights, ideas and practices that they can creatively emulate back in their situation.In some types of training seminars, participants will be placed in the “hot seat” by the facilitator or trainer. In this situation the participant is asked very specific questions to help both them and the facilitator better understand their situation. Then the trainer will propose some very specific ideas that the participant can apply.On first glance this may seem like a boring event for other participants as one person’s situation is explored, prodded and probed. The reality is that if the trainer does a good job of setting up the process, each participant can learn much by answering the same questions for themselves, reflecting on their answers and using the process of creative emulation to apply the lessons to their own business and situation.These are three very different situations, all of which use the process of creative emulation as a way to create new ideas and spawn new approaches.How to Do ItThe process is pretty straightforward:1. Learn all you can about a successful business or business model. This includes reading, interviewing and researching it as much as you can.2. Think about the strengths of that business or process and see how it might strengthen your situation.3. Look for ways to emulate, modify or adapt those success approaches into your situation.Where do you find these model businesses? First of all it is important to realize that any business has some unique strength, even if they don’t recognize it, and even if they may not be super successful overall. With this realization, anyone can become a case study for you!o Read the local business section or the Wall Street Journal more carefully.o Read business magazines in industries different than you own.o Attend a conference as a guest of a friend – in an industry completely different from your own.o Learn more about the people you meet at your next networking event. Don’t stop with exchanging names and business cards. Take real interest in their approaches and successes.These approaches can get you started.Brainstorming, benchmarking and problem solving are great tools in your tool bag, but remember you have other options. One of those options is creative emulation. You can apply it in many ways in your business or other professional pursuits.I wish you great success with this new approach.