Smart moves: Baths and beaches are good for business

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The Independent Online
THE OLD adage "all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" is often sadly neglected in these days of the intensely competitive business environment. But, according to new research from the Roffey Park Management Institute, such conditions make taking time out from the stresses and strains of the job more necessary than ever before.

The survey, carried out by business authors and consultants Jean Lammiman and Michel Syrett adds credence to the old cliche that some of the best business ideas come not in the boardroom but in the bath, on the beach, while walking the dog or driving in a car. The authors conclude that, if they want to enhance innovation and creativity, directors and senior managers need to escape their conventional surroundings and give themselves time and space for reflection.

Though some of the world's most visionary business people are not renowned for their conventional work ethic, most executives are so consumed with meetings and paperwork that they are barely able to leave the office at evenings or weekends, let alone have time for unstructured thought.

As the authors say: "Ideas and insights tend to come to us away from work because this is the time when we allow our minds to drift and dream. At the workplace, we engage in more focused thinking and this can often be a barrier rather than a support for creativity."

But the examples of some of those featured in the research - such as Prue Leith, the restaurateur; GK Noon, chairman of Noon Products; and Chris Brady, general manager for product development at Virgin Atlantic - should encourage other, more traditional managers to widen their interests in order to boost their performance. Nor are Ms Lammiman and Mr Syrett the only ones suggesting this. A senior consultant with another management development centre has long advised executives attending programmes there toread a publication each week that they would not otherwise look at; the idea is that such an activity might not lead immediately to a new product or service,but it could change their view of the world.

In turn, the research report from West Sussex-based Roffey Park, entitled Innovation at the top. Where do directors get their ideas from?, maintains that the business decisions of senior managers are shaped by their perspective, which is, of course, shaped by what they read, watch, listen to and experience in their private lives.

And even though Prue Leith and the other 11 case studies are less conventional than most, the overall finding that news, business, sport and comedy are the primary interests of the 120 chief executives and other senior managers questioned is hardly surprising. In fact, some might feel it helps to explain why there is so little innovation in business. It certainly demonstrates why the business lexicon is littered with sporting metaphors - teamwork, fitness and competition, to name but a few - rather than the (these days) less politically correct military jargon.

Even when executives cite people as an inspiration, their choices are fairly humdrum. They are principally spouses and children, but also business colleagues and contacts with similar educational and professional backgrounds, rather than individuals who might bring a totally different outlook. However, a fifth of them claim that inspiration comes from a historical figure, and a sixth say it comes from a fictional character.

But it does not have to be as black and white as this. The report concludes that human resource practitioners or other management development experts can help create a receptive culture for innovation if they have a proper grasp of the dynamics of creative thinking.

Ms Lammiman and Mr Syrett suggest that facilitated boardroom forums, secondments and benchmarking groups can benefit directors. They call for companies to recognise the leisure pursuits, community activities and intellectual interests of senior managers, arguing that they should be actively built into appraisals and personal development plans.

"The private interests of directors will influence the culture of the organisation and its ability to respond to change," they explain. "This has far-reaching implications for the development of directors and senior managers."

Meanwhile, Roffey Park is anxious to stress that this study is not meant to be a definitive conclusion. Rather, it is intended to be part of a wider research project under the title "Inside the Mind of the Visionary Board" and to lay the basis for additional research into issues surrounding executive and boardroom development.

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