Creative Problem-Solving by Copying Others


Before you assume that the answer to your problem doesn’t exist, look for solutions from other industries.

Creative Problem Solving

At the turn of the century, all computers were squarish, beige boxes. Not pretty, but functional — and they were all we had to choose from.

Enter Apple. Apple wanted to be different. Its designers wanted to use colorful, translucent, rounded plastic to house its hardware. But at the time, nobody knew how to create a material that would be hard and durable enough. Manufacturing kept failing. A new idea was required.

Apple’s designers eventually searched for a solution outside of their industry and turned to candy manufacturers of all places — more specifically, the maker of jawbreakers.

Rather than reinventing the wheel, Apple borrowed an existing idea from another industry and adapted it, enabling the company to produce the colorful, esthetic, revolutionary computers they had envisioned. In the process, Apple changed the course of computing forever.


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When faced with a problem, practice owners, managers and leaders often tend to brainstorm about solutions behind closed doors. They believe their problem is different or unique, and the only resolve is to come up with their own brilliant solution.

Instead, more people should consider taking a page from Apple’s playbook and look for solutions that already exist in other industries.

  • Does your customer service staff fail to wow clients? Send them to learn from fancy restaurants and five-star hotels. Does your inventory manager struggle between too many and too few supplies? Send him or her to learn from your local pharmacy.
  • Does your front desk staff struggle with scheduling? Send them to learn from their own physician, dentist or physical therapist.

This is what marketing guru Dan Kennedy calls “swipe and deploy.” He is a true expert at this. He will notice something brilliant at a car wash, restaurant or shoe store, and recommend the concept to his clients across multiple industries.

In a veterinary practice, this could easily apply to designing a website, creating a rewards program, inventing a bonus system, crafting a marketing campaign or onboarding new employees.

Of course, this is not an encouragement to steal or plagiarize from others. You are merely borrowing and adapting their concepts for your needs.

Learning from cult brands such as Disney, Apple, Ritz-Carlton, Nike and Harley Davidson can be hugely profitable. But you can also learn from a local mom-and-pop store. What matters is not how big or famous the business is, but how it executes specific tasks, such as customer generation, retention and experience.

As you go through life, pay attention to what other businesses do. Why do you feel so well taken care of by restaurant staff? Why did a certain advertisement capture your attention? How does your dentist’s staff encourage you to refer other patients? What makes a company’s mission statement so motivational?

Sometimes you don’t need to be an original. Borrow ideas from others. Make them even better. And solve your own problems.

Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a board-certified veterinary surgeon and serial entrepreneur. His traveling surgery practice takes him all over Eastern Pennsylvania and Western New Jersey. You can visit his websites at and

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