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CAREERS Bosses must foster creative environments to get the most out of their staff

Britain's bosses may be shocked to learn that workers admit to having their best ideas in bed.

Almost a third of people polled in a recent survey claim their brains go into overdrive when they are in bed, with only 11% admitting to having their best ideas at work.

According to the research commissioned by the East of England Development Agency (EEDA), as part of its East of England - Space for ideas campaign, just 6% of females attribute their good ideas to the workplace, compared to 17% of men.

The survey also revealed that men and women have different opinions on what constitutes a good idea. Men consider the tea bag - invented 100 years ago - the best invention since sliced bread (which came a very close second), while more than 50% of the women surveyed heralded chocolate or the bra as their favourite idea.

It is not all bad news though, as nearly 70% of the 1,010 individuals surveyed consider themselves 'ideas' people, and one in five 2534 year olds polled said they had their best ideas at work.

According to Professor Richard Wiseman, head of psychology at the University of Hertfordshire, the results of the Space for ideas survey illustrate how people's minds are often most creative when they relax and take time away from everyday pressures. Dreams also produce unusual combinations of ideas that can seem surreal, but every once in a while, result in an amazingly creative solution to an important problem.

'Ideas can come to people at any time and in any place, ' he says, 'but to reap the rewards of a creative mind, people's brains need to be primed for a new way of thinking' Britain's bosses must foster new approaches if they want to get the most out of their employees, Wiseman asserts, such as focusing employees' creative attention on addressing specific problems or issues.

Encouraging and harnessing workplace creativity is crucial in the current knowledge-based economy, says EEDA's marketing director Charles Kitchin, both financially and in terms of staff satisfaction, 'but ideas are not enough in themselves, we need a work culture in which people feel their ideas are appreciated and acted upon' People need to improve knowledge sharing and create a culture with more focus on learning and asking, says Alan Powderham, director of transportation at Mott MacDonald.

'Of course profitability is vital, but too much dominance on delivery and the bottom line stifles creativity, allowing no time for reflection.

'Innovation flows from creativity but nurturing it is a real issue for the construction industry, where proven technology and certainty of outcome register far more strongly.'

Peter Kydd, Parsons Brinckerhoff 's divisional director (environment), believes the key to capturing the creative energy is very much related to management being able to articulate 'the big picture' and employees being empowered to contribute to its development and implementation.

'Having staff who are not just task orientated but who understand the value of what they are doing and what clients are trying to achieve is essential in developing a culture where creative knowledge and its potential applications form an integral part, ' he adds.

According to Powderham, ground engineering, with its inherent complexity, unknowns and risks, offers rich and varied challenges to creativity.

'However, it's more about introducing small but significant changes through feedback and continuous improvement than finding a single big solution, ' he adds.

'Communication is central to managing risk and to ensure creative thinking is appropriately balanced; when we combine this with adequate reflective time then creativity can spark those new ideas that tip the balance towards innovation.'

Creative thinking

1. Try brain-priming exercises.

Focus on a problem, move on to something else for a while and then come back to it. The break will have primed your brain into another way of thinking.

2.Have flowers and plants in the office. Research conducted in the US has shown that this can help to produce 15% more ideas in the workplace.

3.Have a dedicated 'creativity' room. A comfortable space for ideas can help generate ideas.

International feng shui doctor, Paul Darby, suggests locating such as room on the west side of a building - in feng shui the west is symbolic of creativity, new ideas and new beginnings. Use colours such as white, cream and silvery grey to encourage creative thought.

4. Have food and drinks readily available to create a relaxed atmosphere.

5. Consider reorganising office layouts to enhance working relationships. Try grouping together people who are likely to thrive from each others' ideas and suggestions.

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