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Great notion: a professor of good ideas

The world's first "professor" of good ideas has been appointed to head a new university department of suggestion schemes.

Geoff Lloyd, a former gas fitter, puts on his gown as a research fellow at the University of Wales on Monday. "The university wants a European centre of excellence to promote the awareness of employee suggestion schemes," said Mr LLoyd, 50. "The unit here is unique."

For once, Britain is ahead of America and Mr Lloyd has been asked to help the University of Central Michigan to set up a similar unit.

The move is part of a revolution in suggestion schemes, of which the estimated 100,000-plus annually in Britain save industry around pounds 500m.

The days of the tin box marked "Suggestion Scheme" hanging in the works canteen and never emptied are passing. Go-ahead companies now tap into employees' cost-cutting brainwaves in a big way.

The new academic's former company, British Gas, has launched a scheme to save up to pounds 300m in its pipeline and storage arm over the next two years, largely from employees' bright ideas.

"There are still firms with the tin box kind of suggestion schemes," said Mr Lloyd, a former chairman of the United Kingdom Association of Suggestion Schemes. "I want to raise the profile of suggestion schemes and show how they can become an important part of problem-solving and a mechanism for change."

As part of Mr Lloyds's PhD in suggestion schemes, he has sent out Britain's first national suggestion scheme survey, to 25,000 people in 200 companies, asking why suggestions were submitted, or why they were not.

Mr Lloyd, who has written a book on the subject, said his unit would be asking what drove people to make suggestions. "Is it money, recognition by their peers or by their managers, or is it love of the company?"

He will give lectures on the subject to students on MSc and Master of Business Administration courses.

Mr Lloyd, who left British Gas after six years running suggestion schemes, has himself only ever made one suggestion - and he was fobbed off. "The experience turned me into a passionate advocate of how to treat people who submit suggestions," he said.

And the first good idea after hanging up his mortar board behind the door? "I'll put the kettle on," he smiled.

Six best suggestions

A Royal Navy commander picked up pounds 25,000 for a fuel-saving idea - called the Harrier ski-jump - for Sea Harriers. Taking off vertically used vast quantities of fuel. The commander suggested the aircraft take off from an angled platform, which is much more fuel-efficient.

An East London gas stores man suggested bar-coding supplies to identify slow-moving items. The pay-off was pounds 4.4m in the first year.

Swan Vesta save thousands of pounds by applying a factory worker's brainwave to put sandpaper on only one side of each matchbox.

A labourer gave his name to the Hitchman's swivel in 1993, an attachment that helps lay underground pipes. He won pounds 11,000.

When an experiment involving glue went wrong, someone saw the potential of the non-drying, failed adhesive - and the Post-It note was born.

A British Rail worker, tired of having to replace copper wire on overhead cable, suggested fitting a rayon sleeve over the wire. It is believed to have saved hundreds of thousands of pounds.