It's what all entrepreneurs dream about.

The back of the napkin idea or "aha moment" that comes to you like a burst of blinding inspiration. Except that notion is just a myth Hollywood propagates.

After spending more than 20 years in marketing and PR, I've always believed this "creative construct" is fiction, and it turns out I am not alone.

I interviewed three experts and the good news is creativity is a skill we all can acquire.

Amy Wilkinson, author of Creators Code, spoke to leading entrepreneurs such as the founders of LinkedIn, Chobani, and Zipcar and discovered that "creators" are not born with an innate ability to conceive and build $100 million enterprises. They work at it.

According to Wilkinson's research, a hard-working leader -- with practice -- can learn how to do these six fundamental things:

Find gaps

Leaders keep their eyes open for "fresh potential, a vacuum to fill, or an unmet need."

Fail wisely

They understand that "experiencing a series of small failures is essential to avoiding huge mistakes."

Fly the OODA Loop

In rapid succession, creators "fly the OODA loop," which is an acronym that stands for observing, orienting, deciding, and acting, explained Wilkinson.

Drive for daylight

From 200 interviews with people like Steve Case and Elon Musk, Wilkinson found that the ultra-successful "drive for daylight." "They are focusing on the horizon, always scanning the edges, and setting the pace," Wilkinson said.

"Network minds"

Leaders can learn to "network minds" and collaborate with unlikely allies to develop uncommon solutions.

Gift small gifts

Wilkinson also noted creators "gift small goods" and unleash generosity by opening opportunities to colleagues.

"I encourage entrepreneurs to be brave," said Wilkinson, which is something she stresses to her students at Stanford Business School.

When Wilkinson interviewed Kevin Plank, the CEO and founder of Under Armour, one thing he said really stuck with her. He said, "Your idea will never be perfect, but don't let it die in your basement or attic. Get it out there and keep moving forward."

Dorie Clark, author of Stand Out, also believes people don't just get a blinding insight or a sudden revelation -- there's a process that is available to us all with a little work.

"We don't become Archimedes in the shower," said Clark. "It is far more often a function of toiling over an idea, and having a moment of silence that creates inspiration."

Psychologist and author of the Myths of Creativity, David Burkus, confirms Clark's hunch.

"Tons of people come up to me and say the idea for their business 'just came to them,'" said Burkus. He jokingly replies, "Do you know exactly where the idea came from? We should just go 'there' for inspiration."

Although eureka moments aren't common, studies show there is something to having time to "incubate" an idea.

Burkus suggests entrepreneurs should ideate (otherwise known as divergent thinking), evaluate (convergent thinking) and then schedule mindless activities (incubate) to process new concepts.

So, put your feet on the desk; it may actually help you come up with that next big idea. If that doesn't work, Clark suggests three practical tips for getting inspired:

Interview experts

Reach out to respectable people in your field and ask them for an interview -- you might be surprised how receptive people are to share their opinions.

Clark suggested this to one of her coaching clients and of the 10 people he reached out to, only two people declined.

He even approached Susan Cain, the best-selling author of the Quiet Revolution, and she said yes to an interview.

Chart your progress

"It can be very interesting to watch how people go about educating themselves," said Clark. For example, Josh Kaufman, author of the Personal MBA, got the equivalent of an MBA by summarizing what he learned from successful business owners and packaging it in his best-selling book.

Focus on what's different

If you are looking for a creative idea, a good starting place is to make a list of how you are different from other people in your field. For instance, if you are in investment banking and you have a music degree, not an MBA -- that makes you interesting.

"You are more likely to see invisible ideas that are not something others see in your respective field," said Clark.

Get your creative juices flowing by making time for mindlessness. Reach out to mentors. And, be brave. It could be the creative competitive edge you've been looking for.

Have other suggestions regarding creativity? Please leave a comment below.

Published on: Sep 12, 2016
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