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When’s best for innovative thinking?

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Is there a time of day when workers in your organisation are at their most innovative and creative?

That was the question economic agency Cornwall Enterprise set out to answer when the county became a magnet for inward migration from individuals and businesses working in fast-growth sectors like media, healthcare and environmental technology.

And the answer was to forget the mid-morning coffee break – 10.30am is the time when most people are at their most creative.

The most inspired people between 9am and 12 noon are those in the East of England, with 29 per cent enjoying their most creative moments then, followed by the South West (25 per cent) and the North West and West Midlands (jointly at 24 per cent).

But the survey also found there were regional and age differences to take into account.

Although 21 per cent of people are at their best between 9am and noon, if you’re based in Yorkshire and the Humber, 20 per cent are at their most innovative between 6am and 9am. Meanwhile, over in Northern Ireland, 18 per cent are at their most creative between 9pm and midnight.

In the 18-24 age bracket, the 9pm to 3am slot was best for a whopping 44 per cent, indicating their best ideas don’t come during work time. But for those aged 55 or over the 6am to 9am slot was best for 18 per cent.

The least creative part of the day was found to be between 3am and 6am with just three per cent of people feeling creative at this time, suggesting that most of us are unlikely to wake up in the middle of the night with a groundbreaking idea.

The survey also found out the biggest factors that help or hinder our ability to think creatively:


  • Colleagues were found to be one of the most positive and negative influences with 43 per cent saying co-workers helped them be inspired, while 42 per cent reported that interruptions from colleagues, phone calls and meetings stifled their ability to be creative

  • Workload pressures were also found to have a major effect on innovation with 47 per cent of people saying they were too busy to take the time to think creatively and 36 per cent saying that having more time would help them explore more creative ideas.

As a result of the findings, Cornwall Enterprise is urging UK workers to give themselves a 15-minute mid-morning ‘innovation window’, with no distractions from colleagues, telephone or email, to get their thinking caps on and come up with new ways to solve problems, work more effectively, or even come up with their own entrepreneurial ideas.

Carole Theobald, brand manager of Cornwall Enterprise, says: “It’s very easy to get caught up in a task-orientated, nine to five mentality but, as most successful people will tell you, it’s also important to give yourself a moment to sit back and look at the wider picture, which is when the ideas that really make a difference occur.”

One Response

  1. Innovation or creativity – confusion?
    Is this survey confusing innovation with creativity?

    General definitions are:
    Creativity, Idea generation
    Innovation, the ACT of doing something new

    The article states” And the answer was to forget the mid-morning coffee break – 10.30am is the time when most people are at their most creative
    “perhaps this is BECAUSE they are away from the confines of their routine work and use the opportunity to ‘use some brain power’ the challenge for business is not to force people to work at this time but to encourage and support this creative thinking and to provide individuals with a way of contributing to their organisation in a constructive way
    To expect people to be creative at the drop of a hat is misunderstanding the research in front of them
    The challenge is not to encourage employees to be creative – but to support middle and senior manager in accepting creative ideas and harnessing them
    The UK has abundant innovation, what we lack is the ability to recognise it and do something about it. We have policies to encourage employees to leave their brains at the gate when they turn up for work. If serious about innovation it would do the following:
    1) reduce the number of policies – these inhibit creative thinking
    2) reward managers for delivering on new methods
    3) develop a knowledge sharing method
    Jacqueline Byrd in her book ‘The Innovation Equation’ (http://www.creatrix.com or http://www.rapidbi.com/creatrix recognises that some people are more innovative, some have an abundance of creative ideas and some are just waiting for the opportunity to do something with the ideas. She encourages companies to start recognising the various preferences people have in teams and use people to their strengths. She is one of the few writers on innovation that support the development of peoples behaviours – rather than artificial approaches to developing creative thinking or process approaches to innovation
    The article seems to miss the point that people are different. It is about helping individuals and their line managers to recognise WHEN a particular individual is at their most resourceful
    As the definition of innovation says – the act of introducing something new – is more than just having an idea – but doing something with the idea to bring it to life

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