On Thursday, Nov. 2, John Bielenberg presented on the topic of creativity within the world of business. Bielenberg recounted his personal experiences creating disruptive products for local markets with his team. He opened his presentation with a video that demonstrated the concept of neural plasticity. The video provided a segue into the main talking point of his presentation– that relying on tradition is detrimental to thinking innovatively.
The bulk of Bielenberg’s experience centered around the work completed by Project M, his first venture into the world of what he calls “thinking wrong,” the reinterpretation of conventions within the context of a current situation. Project M gathers groups of college students together in unfamiliar places and requires them to find a problem within the community by interacting with the general public.
Project M participants are given four weeks and limited resources to “think wrong” in order to solve the problem they have identified. Participants in Project M have been to the rainforests of Costa Rica several times and were a part of the relief effort during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
The solutions that Project M offers normally attempt to revitalize communities through methods that often visibly display the personality of their creators. Project M’s solutions can range from building and selling basketball hoops out of unusable street signs to creating pop up restaurants that enrich the existing culture. In the words of Bielenberg, “there’s a point where you just have to start making stuff, you can’t keep talking about it.”
One of the most influential projects Bielenberg talked about was Pie Lab. The project began as a community event designed to promote communication within the town of Greensboro, Ala. Project M participants started a street-corner pie stand which gradually developed into a downtown brick and mortar location named “Pie Lab.” Pie Lab grew to employ members of Greensboro’s population and while Bielenberg’s group is no longer working in the town, the restaurant still offers up its delicious creations. Bielenberg stated that “it really changed the trajectory of the community.” Due to the publicity that Pie Lab drew, the town of Greensboro gained enough money and recognition to begin renovations and improvements on its infrastructure and cultural center. Additionally, Bielenberg talked about several ways to motivate yourself to make a difference like he and his co-workers have been able to do. The topics included advice such as “be bold,” “make stuff” and “take small bets.” Bielenberg made clear that he believed in the philosophy of investing your time into something that you care deeply about, stating, “If you’re going to invest your resources and time, be prepared to make a difference.”