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Helter Skelter
Can thinking wrong be absolutely right?

by DK Holland

We sat at the long community table in the back of PieLab—the VISTA volunteers, the town teens (all black males) and me. To asked us each to take a raw egg from a carton he passed around (clever use of available materials I thought, having just had the quiche). We had to figure out how to get the yoke out of our shell leaving the smallest, fewest holes possible, To instructed. He flipped over the egg timer. To later told me, “The simplicity of the task established the common denominator we needed. We all struggled through it together. If they can think of something small and do it, that could start to change their lives.” I connected with the boy sitting next to me. We had conversation. The teen next to me was a large black male. He told me of the curfew for blacks in Greensboro, about the two high schools in town (one black, one white) and the existence of mutual racism. I asked him if there were more whites against blacks or vice versa. He said it was about equal. I asked about the ages of people he felt harbored this prejudice. He said they were mostly older. This seemed positive. The old die off. We lined up our eggs and To noted the sizes of the holes. One of the teens had made a straw to pull out the yoke. No one else thought of that. Clever. But a VISTA volunteer was determined to prevail. She sucked the yoke out with her mouth. She won.

To said, “What they have going on here is awesome. This design work inspires us but I wonder, is it actually moving the needle for Greensboro? The people are stuck. They need jobs. They need a chance to get unstuck.”

In the East, the self, or individual identity, is subsumed by the family; social responsibility trumps ego. This affects everything.6 In the West, the individual is ego-driven not socially-driven. It’s how we’re raised. This affects everything. Yet fulfilling the social role is a very important way for the individual to become whole, to heal, no matter where you are from. And caring as much about others as you do about yourself is the basis of all ethics. Of doing good. Yet the individual is the innovator, the creator, not the family. And so, in many ways, the future of the world depends, in Think Wrong parlance, on the “us” of the East mashing up with the “me” of the West. To helped bring that balance to M.

Bielenberg, an avid biker, says thoughts gravitate naturally to biking at Project M. “There were few people at M who were not into biking it seemed this last year. We discussed how the simplified bike, the fixed-gear movement and that subculture, is evolving. This movement is cool and hip and inexpensive—very D.I.Y,” Bielenberg observes. “We prototyped a bike lab, where we could recycle old bikes, to get more people in Greensboro onto bikes. And we started Nada Bike7—the most simple bike, just a frame, no speeds, fixed gears. We set up a Web site for Nada. When you’d join, you’d get a simple steel frame in the mail. But we felt badly about ordering metal frames from Asia, it seemed so wasteful. Then we found out about the Bamboo Bike Studio in Brooklyn, New York, and we mashed bamboo into Nada.” Bielenberg says, “Marty Odlin, co-founder of the studio, came down and showed us how to harvest bamboo for bike frames.”

You need wheels to get anywhere in Greensboro, and its easy to see how they would benefit from both growing bamboo (so many products could spin off from this) and developing a biking culture. Plus this nurtures commerce in Greensboro. And it’s fun. Win. Win. Win. Win.

Bielenberg and his partners at C2 just started MavLab (i.e., maverick thinkers) for their clients in Half Moon Bay. It brings together interdisciplinary teams of creative individuals who work to solve big challenges. Design becomes part of the solution using the same intuitive approach as Project M.

Left: C2/MavLab “plastic” building near the Mavericks surf spot in Half Moon Bay, California. Right: Interior of C2/MavLab open-plan studio space featuring individually customized cubes.

Charlie Munger and Warren Buffett head the diversified company Berkshire Hathaway,8 which has arguably the most successful stock of all time trading at well over $100,000 a share. Munger considers our human failings in a talk he gave, “The Psychology of Human Misjudgment.” We want to confirm what we believe; we gravitate to evidence that supports our views. We work at thinking as little as possible. When we do think, we tend to conform our perceptions to fit with our group’s. MavLab and Project M are mental gymnasiums that loosen up our tendency to default to “foolish consistency.”

Helter Skelter are two words with no meaning but, when put together, somehow create meaning for us. Did you think this article was about the Manson murders? Or a Beatles song? Or an insincere term for a pawnshop as seventeenth-century satirist Jonathan Swift intended? Or did it mean scattered and chaotic—my choice? This title was random. The phrase just came into my head. We fear randomness. But if everything were controlled, everything would have a fixed meaning (i.e., there are no coincidences, destiny, karma, everything has a purpose). Without randomness, we are stuck with predictability, routine, formula. We are just stuck. But if we expect the unexpected, think wrong every once in a while, we may be absolutely right. And we may just get unstuck. CA

1. Homage to René Magritte’s contradictory painting of a pipe, Ceci n'est pas une pipe (This is not a pipe).
2. A bubble is inflated speculation, destined to burst.
3. To be part of Project M, check out or e-mail
4. A Potemkin Village was a portable façade supposedly constructed to give Catherine the Great the illusion of prosperity as she traveled across her empire.
5. Rural Studio: Samuel Mockbee and an architecture of decency, Princeton Architectural Press.
6. All in the mind, Challenging Stereotypes, ABC National Radio podcast.
8. Holland
DK Holland writes about design and teaches in two MFA design programs in New York, one at SVA and one at Pratt. She is an advisor to Project M and Design Ignites Change. Holland has been the editor of Design Issues since she started it in 1990. She is the author/producer of many books on design as well as Branding for Nonprofits. She is the producer of CitizenME, which creates transmedia tools that engage students in understanding how to become proactive citizens. Holland lives and works in her tiny nineteenth-century restored Italianate house and garden in Fort Greene, Brooklyn.