Tim Smit led the creation of the £130 million Eden Project.
What was once a disused clay pit went on to become one of the most popular visitor attractions in the UK despite its relatively remote location in the hills behind St Austell in Cornwall.
Tim is, in my terms, very much a player. He takes on daring projects without knowing exactly how he’ll make them work, and uses a heap of creativity and bravery to make a success of them.
And he does all this while remaining a very down to earth and unpretentious guy.
I tracked him down to ask him some key questions about his approach to his remarkable projects and he very kindly took the time to answer them here.
Tim, you describe the Eden Project as “the world’s first rock ‘n’ roll scientific foundation”. What have you brought from the music industry that’s been helpful to you in entrepreneurship?
An understanding of marketing and showbusiness realising that the tools of the soundbite and so on have never been used on this area before. Also to remember that no one remembers the well behaved person at the party. Also if you are going to break the rules know what the rules are that you are breaking. It is cool to be a rebel if you know your stuff and very naive and damaging if you don’t.
To what extent did Eden follow the planned vision for it and to what extent did it evolve during its creation? [Question from @escapetocreate on twitter]
The vision physically remained the same throughout. Philosophically it evolved from the narrow confines of science, spectacle and plants to embrace livelihoods and community as we realised what the real drivers for change and sustainability were. This was something of a revelation and could only have evolved out of actually doing the work of construction and organisational team building and learning from it.
Do you ever get doubts? A lot of people said Eden wouldn’t work, how did you know it would?
I have known since my music business days that if you love something and you are not a freak there will millions of people like you out there so the only issue is getting to them. This is the basis of great marketing. So, no, I never had doubts.
You’ve achieved an enormous amount for someone who describes themselves as fundamentally lazy, what drives you to take on these projects rather than just taking it easy?
The fear of death and a rash desire to make unlikely promises. Which I then have to fulfil or lose face as a consequence.
You describe yourself as one of the least focussed people you could ever meet. How did you manage to stay focused on projects like Eden and Heligan that lasted several years?
By taking myself by surprise. Focus is overrated and completely misunderstood being able to focus like a grown up means flying like a falcon surveying the landscape below while being able to hone in on the slightest movement. Focus is not the role of a real CEO but the mark of an over promoted foot soldier. You can spot them a mile off!
What’s the single most important piece of advice you would give to someone about to embark on a project the scale of Eden?
Be honest about what you don’t know, persuade people better than you to join you and lose your fear of being disliked.
What can we look forward to next from you and the Eden Project?
Be surprised and don’t let your words hold you hostage!