Lecturer invites ISU students to think wrong


Ashley Green/Iowa State Daily

John Bielenberg, graphic designer, entrepreneur and social advocate presented “Thinking Wrong, Doing Right” Nov. 18. as part of the Graphic Design Speaker series.

Ashley Green

Sometimes thinking the wrong way can have the best outcome.

Graphic designer, entrepreneur and social advocate John Bielenberg gave his presentation “Thinking Wrong, Doing Right” on Wednesday at Iowa State

Bielenberg said thinking wrong requires someone to abandon the certain and the known in order to look at things from a perspective that hasn’t been applied before. People such as Steve Jobs, Pablo Picasso and Jane Goodall were highly innovative and successful, all while thinking wrong.

Bielenberg founded Project M on the premise of thinking wrong. The project is an immersion program for young designers who, according to the Project M website, are “looking for a platform to collaborate and generate ideas and projects bigger than themselves.”  

In the last 10 years, Project M has completed numerous projects, all available on the website, that have improved communities.

“I always say, ‘I don’t care what you do, it just has to be legendary,’’’ Bielenberg said of the designers’ work.

One project, listed on the website as “Alabamboo Make & Ride,” began in Greensboro, Ala.

“The challenge was, could we get young people to use bikes for everyday transportation?” Bielenberg said. 

With that thought, Project M started a movement. Dubbing it “not a bike,” people could pay $100 to join and in return would receive a steel bike frame. With the frame, people could design whichever type of bike they wanted, and they sold out quickly.

Bamboo, which they then learned how to harvest and incorporate into bicycle and skateboard designs, grew about 100 feet away from the project’s studio.

Project M students rode their homemade bikes from Greensboro to California to promote the project.

Another project began from a simple question about a hidden talent, which received an interesting response: “I like pie.”

“I was like, ‘That’s not a talent, that’s really stupid,'” Bielenberg said, but it had perfect timing.

The incident occurred close to March 14, otherwise known as Pi Day, prompting Project M to create a pop-up pie stand in a small town in May. The stand was a huge success, garnering attention from local newspapers and news stations.

“There’s something about pie and coffee that facilitates conversations that might drive projects,” Bielenberg said.

As a result, half of the studio traveled back to Greensboro and created a longer lasting version of the pop-up pie stand, this time a pop-up pie lab that would remain for an entire summer.

With $600 to work with, the designers were able to create a small, temporary space. Only one table was included to encourage conversations among the people who purchased pie.

Pie Lab, which is now a permanent feature on Greensboro’s main street, came in second in 2010 for the James Beard Awards for restaurant design and has become a community space.

Selma Aljic, junior in art and design, was impressed by the work of Project M.

“It just kind of makes me wonder how easy it is to actually do it because his advice was pretty much to go ahead and do it,” Aljic said. “It kind of just makes me really excited because I have a lot of things that I want to do that. With a little bit of guidance, I think I can.”