Tim Smit is best known for the Eden Project, but has become somewhat sort after as a speaker on management issues, for his unconventional approach and his apparent success in doing things differently. He spoke last week at the Association of Colleges conference in Birmingham, interestingly as a last minute stand-in for Peter Jones. Arguably Tim may have given more insight to the audience of college principals and governors on entrepreneurship than the celebrity entrepreneur of Dragon’s Den fame.
Why? Because he gave the impression of cutting through the nonsense, leaving behind the jargon and telling it how it is. And for him the theme that underlies success is trust and relationships. You can see this in his suggestions for management, from the saying good morning to lots of your staff before starting work, to getting them to play the samba drums.
He maintains that getting the multi-million pound Eden project delivered on time within budget was all to do with trust with suppliers and contractors, describing how piles of legal paperwork were superceded by a simple agreement to do whatever it takes and not blame each other when things didn’t work out. In fact he says the biggest innovation is to learn to trust again. Of course the team behind him is crucial, and their pride in their work, their spirit and attitude that creates energy to achieve the unachievable. So what other messages does Tim have for those who want to succeed? He tells us to live by instinct, do what you love, and not to underestimate the power of storytelling.
He may be considered unconventional, but in fact you can relate many of his principles to theories on innovation and entrepreneurship. Trust is a key factor in the theories, as is commitment, purpose and direction, and storytelling can be seen in the power of communication to inspire and garner support. And consider the trait/behaviour of openness to experience, associated strongly with entrepreneurs but also creativity more widely. Getting staff to learn the samba drums, and asking them to go to the theatre or a concert and read 2 books each month outside of their normal interest area – this is without doubt a way of getting people to broaden their outlook, widen their experience, and become accustomed to trying something different. It’s also about overcoming fear, perhaps the biggest obstacle to creativity, by showing people how they can be part of something bigger, share experiences, learn from each other and achieve a shared sense of purpose. Perhaps Tim isn’t so unconventional afterall, he’s just in a minority in doing things the right way?
Here is Tim and others on a slightly different theme, explaining the importance of getting the idea right, telling the story convincingly, before getting bogged down with the business plan.