Entrepreneurs are natural innovators, but even the most forward-thinking people sometimes need a little nudge to help open their minds to new possibilities for growth.

One of the best ways to think outside of the box is to start asking “what if” questions. Here’s a “what if” question I’ve been kicking around lately: What if we took 2 disparate businesses and blended them to make something new? I’m not talking about merging or partnering with another company; I’m talking about blending business methodologies from 2 (or more) industries to create a new business, or dramatically improve an existing business.

A classic example of this is Commerce Bank. Founded by Vernon Hill in 1973, Commerce Bank blended 2 industries: fast-food restaurants and banking. The owner of a fast-food restaurant franchise, Vernon Hill’s bright idea was to bring the convenience and perks of fast food to banking.

For example, fast-food restaurants are open every day, and they start early and close late; Hill implemented extended hours at Commerce Bank and kept the doors open 7 days a week. No other bank had done this before.

Hill blended other systems from his fast-food franchise when he launched his blended business. He installed a “Penny Arcade” coin-counting machine in his lobby, which had the same effect as video games in family restaurants. Kids could count money and win a prize, and the adults loved it too.

One of my favorite examples of Hill’s blending genius is when you use the drive-thru window at Commerce Bank and get a treat for your dog, just like the toy in a kid’s meal. Is it any wonder people call it “McBank”? By blending 2 industries, Hill created the fastest-growing bank ever.

Commerce Bank grew from one location to more than 400, and the franchise sold for $8.5 billion in 2007. See what a little game of “what if” can spark?

What if you blended your business with hallmarks from another industry? Start thinking WAY outside of the box, looking at winning concepts from industries that may seem to have nothing to do with your business. (Of course, you do have something in common with businesses in ALL industries: customers.) You never know—you just might make billions.

Consider yourself nudged.

Mike Palm Tech IT Expert MIKE MICHALOWICZ (pronounced mi-KAL-o-wits) started his first business at the age of 24, moving his young family to the only safe place he could afford – a retirement building. With no experience, no contacts and no savings, he systematically bootstrapped a multimillion-dollar business. Then he did it again. And again. Now he is doing it for other entrepreneurs. Mike is the CEO of Provendus Group, a consulting firm that ignites explosive growth in companies that have plateaued; a former small-business columnist for The Wall Street Journal; MSNBC’s business makeover expert; a keynote speaker on entrepreneurship; and the author of the cult classic book The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur. His newest book, The Pumpkin Plan, has already been called “the next E-Myth!” For more information, visit