“YOU ARE ALL GOING TO DIE” bellows Tim Smit, the charismatic founder of the Eden project, recounting a previous talk where having arrived late was rushed on stage and unable to think of anything to say. And so begins one of the most inspirational hours of my life. Brimming with great anecdotes and insights into both his own way of going about things and general observations on how people interact, Tim has all the verve and charm of a motivational speaker, while pouring scorn over all the jargon and empty posturing of “innovative” companies, where people “think out of the box”. This is a man who ambles into the Sheldonian Theatre, ruffled hair, creased shirt tucked into his jeans, looking like he could easily be heading over to the garden to do some weeding…although in his case potentially on a massive scale!
The Eden Project is an £80million environmental initiative, and we’re told to date that it has generated £1billion. What do you do when you are trying to bring a project to fruition and you’re stretched to the limit, and feeling like you can’t possibly bring everything together asks Tim. As a rule? Well, you take one more step out on a limb. Getting the funding for the project required some good fortune and Tim largely credits his success to taking risks and the sheer positive power on others generated by believing in what you are doing.
Another principle Tim lives by is seeking out the great potential in unexpected situations. Organisations and institutions obsess about gathering together the “great thinkers” in “centres of excellence”, but what of the untapped resources bubbling away within us all? And who knows what spark can ignite when you get people in situations they never planned? Well funnily enough I didn’t know who Tim Smit was before today and (rather shamefully) I knew nothing of the Eden project. So I came to the Sheldonian Theatre with no expectations, and I left having been treated to a fantastically stimulating event. I’ve had my mind energised by a vision of how this country could invest in sustainable energy and move into a new age of industry and production, an “exciting” time, which Tim believes could prove to be as historically significant as the age of enlightenment. And why not, if we can show some of the drive and commitment which has been on show today?
Tim has a cunning little method to encourage novel situations: he accepts every third invitation (providing there’s no clash with family commitments). So was Blackwell at the mercy of Tim’s social invite roulette wheel when we asked him to appear at the Oxford Literary Festival this year? I never thought to ask him. But I do know that all of us here at the Sheldonian Theatre today were very lucky to have been able to spend a little time in the company of this inspiring man.
– Tom Osman