Tim Smit

The past four weeks I’ve been freelancing for Northstar Publishing which has been great – eating hand made chocolate, interviewing Hampstead Heath winter swimmers, examining £185,000 Jaeger LeCoultre watches.

This last week was the highlight, being flown to Newquay to interview Tim Smit, founder of the Eden Project for Audi Magazine.

First of all flying is definitely not faster or less stressful than the train. After the photographer’s assistant had most of the contents of her hand luggage confiscated (including an Allen key – “You could dismantle the plane with this.”) and we had been repeatedly frisked to get through all the security checks, because Newquay is a hub of terrorist activity, after boarding the late flight, landing, getting the hire car, getting lost in the dark and finally arriving, it would probably have been faster to take the train.

Rant over. The Eden Project is a monumental and globally unique attraction, if that’s the word to use. The two biomes are the largest conservatories in the world. The Project has generated £800 million for the Cornish economy which is double what the area received from the European Union for regeneration. Its aim is to demonstrate how humans and plants are interdependent, to educate people about climate change and sustainable living and all those ever so trendy green ideas. Eden was there first and possibly helped make eco-friendly living cool.

Tim Smit has become a bit of a legend. He speaks at conferences on sustainability, entrepreneurial management and even education. He has been quite controversial and yet he seems to be unable to do any wrong. I was intrigued to meet him and he didn’t disappoint.

So here are some of the best bits and if I work out how to post the full transcript, I’ll put that up here too some time.

“A community is not or shouldn’t be about a geography on a map with a demographic in it – it should be about the relationships of those people in it.”

“I realised to my amazement in 2003 that I’d hired almost uniquely an entire team of adrenalin junkies which meant that the normal analysis of risk had to go out of the window because the greatest risk with us was that we weren’t taking risks, we were just putting people to sleep. So we embarked on a culture of doing extreme things and it’s actually by doing extreme things in short periods of time that creates a strange electricity that does create a kind of gang atmosphere. “

“Magic is created when you meet people you didn’t know you needed to meet.”

“There are a number of ingredients necessary to create the foundations for innovation. The greatest is fear itself. Fear does concentrate the mind, whether that be fear of bankruptcy or fear of death. You find some of the greatest innovations are made during the war. That’s why in the sense this adrenalin thing is really interesting. It’s what we call here ‘How do you harness the spirit of war to the use of peace?’”

“I believe you start with real problems when you take this British attitude of ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. I prefer ‘If it ain’t broke, smash it because no-one’s looked at it’.”

“Great interventions come from asking a question that is like a rapier, which starts to make you think in a way you’ve never thought before, that makes you question things that are a given.”

“I am ruthless about negative people. I remove them. They are like a cancer.”

“My view is that if you’re not prepared to go down in flames you’ll never take great decisions. I think in ordinary organisations you’d never take that decision. But I understood the other risks that were that to go whimpering out into the night when you could have gone down in glory. People are attracted to the glory aren’t they anyway? They adore risk because I know it does something to other people. My thing is, it doesn’t become the risk you thought it was, because people are so attracted to the risk and it galvanises their thoughts so much that so much of what you worried about then gets removed because you’re now focussing on ameliorating it. It’s not really rocket science. It’s actually what happens to all of us when we decide we’re going to do one thing a bit daring.”

“I just want to be in the best gang in the world. That’s really what I want, I want to be in the best gang and it’s a gang dedicated to good things.”

“We all fall so short of our knowledge that things are wrong and doing anything about it. I find it so inspiring. I think to be happy in your life you should be able to go to bed knowing that you did what you could.”


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