Chris Markiewicz's Blog
Every Monday – thoughts, observations and ideas that hold up a mirror to who & how we are

From Eden to oysters

I recall hearing a while back that all employees at the Eden Project in Cornwall are required to fulfil a particular task each year. That task involves them simply reading two books during that period.

So, what’s the big deal? I’ve been known to read anything up to four books in a given year myself.

There is a stipulation:  the books must be on topics that the individuals would usually have absolutely no interest in. The idea was conceived by Tim Smit, the quirky yet incredibly shrewd founder of the Eden Project. His thinking was that, by encouraging his people to broaden their horizons, they would be more motivated, more creative and better rounded employees.

We can so easily get stuck on specific tramlines when making our way through life. That can be demonstrated in our career as well as in our personal interests. There is nothing wrong with following a specific passion. However, it can make us too focused on just that one endeavour or goal, and we end up with a kind of tunnel vision.

I admire polymaths, much more so than those who excel at one thing, and one thing alone. Hildegard of Bingham, Da Vinci, Isaac Newton, Jonathan Miller being good examples. The ability  to move seamlessly (apparently) from one endeavour to another, and enjoying it in the process must be incredibly stimulating. I’m sure it also makes for a far more interesting individual. It’s often been said that those who relentlessly pursue a particular dream can also become phenomenally boring as a result. They can also come crashing down should they no longer be able to pursue their one and only passion.

I’m not even certain that it’s necessarily about excelling at things –  I wonder whether being more of a “dipper in” can be just as satisfying? I think this is partly what lies behind Mr Smit’s reading initiative.

So, my task for today?  I’ll take a “dip” myself and have a browse online for some interesting tomes. Ideas that spring to mind could include soil mechanics, dentistry, perfumery, pig farming, the history of Ecuador ……..

It suddenly feels like the world is very much my oyster!

Aaah, that’s it, I’ll order a book on oysters.




3 Responses to “From Eden to oysters”

  1. Some while ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Tim Smit – a truly inspiring man. He has taken an unusual approach to employing people, of which your reading example is just one.

    Not only must you read the book, you are obliged, as I understand it, to review it for your colleagues. Furthermore, you are expected to watch a film, your workmates would be surprised you have seen and review that too.

    There are several other aspects of his quirky employment manual, three of which I particularly like. First, if you work at the Eden Project you are not permitted to start work until you have said a genuine “Hello” to up to ten people. I wonder how many of us arrive at work, sit at our desk and never say anything to anyone.

    Second is that all staff have to attend an African drumming workshop annually and be expected to take part.

    Finally, one of Tim Smit’s ideas I really like, is that the senior team have their monthly meeting in the evening by candlelight and with plenty of good food and wine. He explained that it is only once the alcohol has taken effect that people drop their inhibitions enough to think creatively and “outside of the box”.

    If I had had a manager like him, maybe I’d still be employed.

  2. Yes Tim Smit is an inspiring guy. Other polymaths I admire Rabindranath Tagore (long dead) and Tom Heatherwick (much younger than me – perhaps I could call him a thinking woman’s toyboy!)

    • Michael, Anita – thanks for your thoughts. Yes Mr Smit is one special boss, although I imagine he’s the type who doesn’t suffer fools gladly.

      I was riveted by the book and video of the story of Eden.

      By the way, I have gone ahead and downloaded a book about oysters – I may stop short at writing a review though!

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