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Life according to Sir Tim Smit

Don’t let the media break your spirit, says Eden Project co-founder Tim Smit. We are living in an age of opportunity.

In an era dominated by climate change, conflict and Brexit, it’s easy to buy into the dismal mood promoted by the media. But it’s impossible to remain sombre within five minutes of meeting Tim Smit, no matter what headlines you’ve just been reading.

“Did you know that there have been more scientific inventions over the last 17 years than in the whole history of humankind before now?” he demands, in velveteen storytelling tones.

“We are living at a time that makes the renaissance or age of enlightenment look like child games. And yet we live in a world dominated by a media that corrodes and erodes what we all stand for.”

It’s breathtaking stuff this idea that actually we don’t need to wallow in the gloom of impending catastrophe and Tim knows it. He’s Dahl’s Willy Wonka re-born, taking his audience on a journey to a place where hope (dare we say it?) can actually be cultivated rather than killed stone-dead.

The man responsible for creating a tropical rainforest in a crater in Cornwall also has some important important life lessons to share based on his own experiences in building and maintaining the Eden Project.

Number One: be ruthless with your time.

He gives an example. “I hunt in packs. And I battle all the time with my conservative, non-executive directors who say, “Well, why have you gone with four people to China? Isn’t that a waste of resources?” “And I say, “No, it wasn’t; I flew over, had a quick meeting, we’ve been there, everybody’s seen the same place, everybody’s met the same people, we’ve all said ‘Do we trust that person?’ and we’ve done the deal.”

“Or else what I could have done, is I could have flown over to China, come back with my report, we could have had another meeting - we could have had dozens of meetings! And I then persuade everybody that my judgement is good, it then goes wrong and nobody knows whether I was good at all, and I’ve wasted a shed-load of time.”

He pauses for breath. “You see the reason I’m so ruthless is that I have learned that time is so, so valuable. You waste your lives away in meetings - these extraordinary things where everyone gives their time to sitting around in chairs talking about some crap they could have done in five minutes. But you can’t do it in five minutes because it’s a really big subject and so it must have a piece of time.”

“Every hour of those meetings you could have have been making love, reading a good book or drinking a bottle of Champy. Or all three! So at work I have this scheme where I say you can have five minutes with me now, or you can have one hour with me in five working days’ time. And you know what happens? Suddenly, because people know that it’s ok to make a serious subject last five minutes people become very good at telling you what you need to know in five minutes.”

Number two: Kill negative people (not literally)

“Allow them nowhere near you. These are alien people. They are the people you meet in a pub; you had a good idea when you drank the froth at the top, by the time you got to the bottom you realise that people like you weren’t meant to have ideas like that.

“If you can persuade four other people to believe in something as passionately as you do it will almost certainly happen. The electricity that comes from getting a few people together that believe in something is unstoppable. If you have a great idea, and people realise you are not going to go away, eventually they will pay you a large amount of money to do so. It’s never failed me ever.”

Number three: Accept every third invitation

“I accept every third invitation ever. It is not that I don’t accept the first, but I accept the third. I’ll tell you why. The reason I accept the third invitation is because stupid people think that life is about meeting the people you need to meet. It's not. Magic is created by meeting the people you didn’t know you needed to meet. There’s a big difference. Every single life-changing event I have had has been caused by accepting the third invitation.

“I can give you an example. In 1998 I was invited to go and talk in a Nissen Hut in Taunton. I went in and there was only fifty people and a dog and I knew there would only be fifty people and a dog and it was great. I got home and my PA said, ‘You’re an effing idiot’ (she gets away with that), ‘you’ve got to be in London tonight.’

“Three months later I’m in Plymouth; it’s a meeting of all the European commissioners deciding whether or not we would get money. It was a disaster - we were going to get nothing. And this guy from Somerset County Council gets up and says, “Three months ago I was in a Nissen Hut in Taunton and I saw this man speak. He’s obviously got the wider west country in his view than just Cornwall and we’ve been speaking amongst ourselves and we’re prepared to drop two of our projects if others will do the same.

“That one trip to Taunton was worth £12.7 million.”

 

Tim’s rejection of advice from his PA is nearly on par with his dislike of the current vacuous media mood. He gets provocative. “When was it you last thought about something? How many of the views you have are the clothes you borrowed from your friends because you’re too lazy to have a view for yourself? I find it really interesting. I gave a card out at Eden Rock Fest which said ‘What do you have strong feelings about that you know nothing about?’”

His final piece of advice is delivered with a thespian-esque dramatic pause. “Buy into a movement whereby you promise yourself that that wonderful thing you have between your ears, you’re going to give it some treats.

“Take it on a journey to places it hasn’t been!”

Learn more about Tim's and The Eden Project here

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