Tim Smit wisdom

Tim Smit

Tim Smit

To the Leaders Club, an association of top managers from the EU institutions organised by the European Administrative School, to listen to Tim Smit, the founder of the Lost Gardens of Heligan and the Eden Project. His speech – one-and-a-half hours without notes and without the slightest sense of boredom among his audience – was a fascinating tour de force. It also provided much food for thought. To read my scribbled notes go to ‘more’ below. Smit is clearly a one-off social entrepreneur whose sheer energy levels have forced through a great deal of good work. He spoke eloquently about the need for a new sort of collective consciousness and growth in the idea of sustainable living as good citizenship. The example that inspired me was his simply pointing out that suburban streets do not need forty lawnmowers. I have vowed to write to all of my neighbours offering the loan of my lawnmower whenever they need it!



Story telling, narrative


Three guiding principles


  1. The Tinkerbell Principle; if you believe in something enough, it will happen.


  1. The Last Man Standing Principle; if you persist enough they’ll end up paying you a lot of money to go away.


  1. Accept every third invitation you receive. You arrive at places you weren’t expected to be. Put yourself in positions of social jeopardy.


Body language.


Kill negative people.


People who don’t have dreams always try to kill yours.


Started rock group at Durham University to make money. Came down to London to discover there were loads of such groups. On the dole for six months, living in damp Brixton flat on the dole. Refusing invitations because couldn’t afford to take a bottle of wine. Walking into pubs after football matches and straight out the back because couldn’t afford rounds. Wrote songs. Was living on £26.80 a week and then, one Monday, received a cheque for £275,000. No idea how it feels. Was going to buy a Porsche and then thought better of it. From that day on has never been paid in weekly or monthly instalments. Went on to write a number of hit songs. Revelation came in a limousine on the Champs Elysées on the way to a music industry awards ceremony. His song was at N° 1 in the French charts. The N° 2 was his as well. Realised he didn’t enjoy the life. Decided to give it up. Bought farm in Cornwall with the intention of setting up a recording studio and writing music for films. Neighbour gave him a pig. He liked it. Got it company. The sow farrowed. A neighbour helped him. Called in his debt. Helped to clear old gardens belonging to stately home. Glass panes from the greenhouse held in place by vegetation. The wooden frame had long since rotted away. The gardeners had mostly enlisted in the First World War and been killed. The owner had sadly sealed off the gardens and rented out the house. These became the lost gardens of Heligan. Discovered by the public before officially opened.


Public loves being involved before things happen.


Trust your intuition.


Avoid careerism and have vision. Dorothy Parker: The trouble with getting there is that when you get there there’s no there there.


The Diceman, Luke Reinhardt (recommends reading). Deliberately challenge yourself through random acts.


Emphasis on doing rather than considering the risks. Metaphor of the diving board. (Fear of seeming stupid but the only thing ultimately that matters is a smooth entry into the water.)


Behaving ‘responsibly’ makes you irresponsible.


You must never have enough money for a project – being in a state of constant need concentrates the mind and imposes constant prioritisation.


Story of third invitation to Somerset botanical association of some sort (‘fifty men and a dog’). Later, when Eden Project funding sought, one of the rose growers turns out to be an important councillor and sets a trend by pledging his support. That third invitation acceptance was worth £12.5 million!


When thinking seriously about Eden Project said to his son ‘they say I’ll lose my reputation’. His son replied ‘you haven’t got a reputation to lose!’


Eden Project – use of architects, particularly Grimshaw, on a voluntary basis.


A symbol of optimism and regeneration.


A new philosophy of community resilience needed. For example, we don’t need 40 lawn mowers in every suburban street!


If you’re a cynic, why bother to stay alive?


Work by candlelight.


Hierarchies disappear at night. The work person becomes a complete person.


Set of nine rules for the Eden Project workforce.


  1. You must say good morning to twenty people before starting work.
  2. You have to read two books a year that you would not ‘normally’ read and you have to write a review of them.
  3. Ditto listen to one piece of music.
  4. Ditto one show.
  5. Ditto one film.
  6. Once a year you have to get up and make a speech about why you want to continue working for the project and, if you can’t, you are honour bound to resign.
  7. You have to prepare a meal for the forty people that matter around you. The breaking of bread together is very important.
  8. You have to share your good fortune by undertaking at least one act of guerrilla goodwill (anonymous charity) per year.
  9. Every member of the team must play the drums.


List three people still living for whom you have respect.


Sustainable being as an act of good citizenship!



  1. Jeannette

    Thanks for sharing this — it is inspiring just to read your notes!

  2. Miichael in UK

    Hello. thanks very much for posting this. I love Tim Smit’s approach to life. He is often described as a maverick with an unorthodox approach.
    But Eden and Helligan opened on time and within their budgets – how many projects can you say that about. He is an inspiration.

  3. Martin

    Indeed. An inspiration in his deeds and also, happily, an inspirational speaker.

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