The most successful professionals I’ve worked with all share at least one common attribute … they are all innately curious and in search of ideas to solve problems and exploit perceived opportunities. 

This goes for the marketers, sales professionals, software engineers, project managers and many others. There is no departmental or vocational limit on creativity. These people are Big Idea Hunters, and they view problems, challenges and even the status quo as giant invitations to change, emblazoned in neon lights.

While I’m sensitive to the reality that an overload of ideas sans focus and deliberate execution might be part of the formula for chaos, the successful Idea Hunters I’ve observed are able to navigate this minefield and focus on doing something new or different for the right reasons. They are also frequently master coalition builders, capable of sparking ideas to solve a problem or exploit an opportunity, and letting others better suited for implementation run with the ideas.

6 Habits of Successful Idea Hunters

1. Their mantra is “What if… ?”  followed by an idea of some sort. This simple inquiry is a gateway question to a universe of options and alternatives.

2. They excel at analogic reasoning. These individuals see solutions to or ideas for specific problems in completely different settings. A current, commonplace example…what firm has not recently pondered how they can apply Apple’s platform and ecosystem strategies to their own business? Some of the most creative analogic idea generators draw upon historical and natural examples to apply the lessons to their own situations.

3. They view the world in patterns…and they strive to find connectors that integrate the patterns to produce unique pictures (and solutions).

4. They read for ideas, not answers. Most Idea Hunters I’ve known are voracious consumers of content of all forms. Typically, they are not looking for direct, formulaic answers, but the spark that leads to, “What if?”

5. They are momentarily great active listeners. Idea Hunters listen with an unrivaled intensity until that point in time when their communication partner has sparked an idea that leads to the “What If?” thought process. After that, you could tell them the moon is made of cheese and they would nod thoughtfully.

6. They take notes, let ideas ferment and loop back regularly to test them out.  One of my favorite Idea Hunters offered up this comment in a strategy session, “I’ve been wondering for awhile how this idea might solve a problem. I just didn’t have the right problem until now.”

5 Ideas to Leverage the Habits of Successful Big Idea Hunters

1. Read more and take notes.

2. Read more way out of your discipline and take notes. Always ask how the ideas you’ve uncovered might apply to your own situation at work.

3. Get more people to read and talk about it. Set up a discussion group in the workplace and make certain to grab and discuss the big ideas in your readings.

4. Study historical problems and their solutions or lack thereof and apply these to your own circumstances. How might Lincoln have better managed the talent search for a general with a clue? What can we learn from the great failures caused by fighting on too many fronts? Why did Lee choose to fully commit at Gettysburg and what if he hadn’t?

5. Ask “What if… ?” a lot and let people build on your thoughts.

The Bottom-Line for Now

Most of us and most of our workplaces can do with a bit more creativity. There’s no magic formula for success and no amount of brainstorming can replace an innate sense of individual and group curiosity.“What if… ?” might be one of the more powerful questions in your creativity arsenal.

This blog originally appeared at artpetty.com.