My Story, Dr. Firestien

I fell in love with creativity in 1977 when I was studying music at the University of Northern Colorado in Greely, Colorado. To make money to help pay for college, I taught guitar lessons at several local music studios.

When I taught beginner students, I found they quickly got bored with the traditional way of learning the guitar. I thought that if I could get my students to be more creative they might enjoy their music lessons more. I began to work with a young professor at the University of Northern Colorado (UNC), Dr. James Wanner. We shared an interest in music and an interest in creativity. Jim helped me find books and articles to learn more about creativity. As I read more about creativity, two names kept appearing, Dr. Sidney J. Parnes and Dr. Ruth Noller.

As I read further, I discovered that Drs. Parnes and Noller were teaching college classes in creativity at the Center for Applied Imagination at Buffalo State College in New York. (Side note: As I recall, it was called the Interdisciplinary Center for Creative Studies – but I digress.)

Curious about the program and who the professors were, I was determined to find out more. One day in early 1977, I went to the library at UNC. Using a microfiche reader, I found a copy of the Buffalo State College catalogue. I read more about Drs. Parnes and Noller. I also found a phone number for the Creative Studies department.

At home, I got up the courage to call the Creative Studies department to get more information. I dialed the number from the phone in Mom and Dad’s basement and got the department secretary. When I asked her for some information about the program, she said, “Well, Dr. Parnes is here. Would you like to talk to him?” I was shocked. I didn’t know any one who had written a book, and all the books that I had read in my life were written by dead people. To talk to a real live author and someone that I admired was amazing.

Dr. Parnes picked up the phone and told me that the Creative Education Foundation held a creativity conference each year. It is called the Creative Problem Solving Institute or CPSI for short. Dr. Parnes also told me that the college had started offering a master’s degree in creativity studies at Buffalo State.

When I got off the phone, I was so excited that I was shaking. It was amazing to talk to Dr. Parnes, and even more amazing to find out that there was an entire conference devoted to creativity, and a master’s degree in the field. I went upstairs to tell my Mom about my conversation. Her first response was, “What? You made a long distance phone call?” They were expensive at the time. Then Mom listened. I am pretty sure she could tell how excited I was.

In June of 1977, I got on a plane and flew from Denver, Colorado, to Buffalo, New York . I attended the 24th Annual Creative Problem Solving Institute. I also took a class, called Principles in Creative Behavior taught by Dr. Ruth Noller. I spent over a month in Buffalo. When Mom and Dad picked me up from the airport, all I talked about was creativity and a process called “Creative Problem Solving.”

I now knew what I wanted to do with my life and I was absolutely on fire. I went back to UNC in the fall and finished up my undergraduate degree. After graduation, I packed up my 1973 Ford Maverick and drove across the country to study creativity. I was 22 years old. Before I left, I remember telling my Mom, “I don’t know if I am ever going to make any money with this creativity stuff, but I sure do love it.” And my love for this work has never ended.

I earned my Master of Science Degree in Creativity Studies in 1979. I was the 8th person to earn the degree. As of 2016, the program has graduated over 600 individuals with similar master’s degrees.

In 1982, I started a creativity consulting company with another graduate of the program, Diane Foucar-Szocki. We named the company Multiple Resource Associates. Our offices were on the second floor of a building on Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo, NY. The first floor of the building was home to the Elmwood Avenue Lounge and Bar.

In 1984, Dr. Parnes retired. I applied for the position in the department and was fortunate to be hired. I needed a doctorate to keep the position, so I attended the University at Buffalo and earned my doctorate in Organizational Communication.

I taught full-time and became an Associate Professor. In 1994, I moved to a half-time position to pursue my consulting work and started Innovation Resources, Inc. But, I could never give up my love of teaching. In addition to my corporate consulting and training work, I continue to teach two classes at Buffalo State. My favorite course to teach is Principles in Creative Behavior. This was the first Creative Studies class that I took back in 1977. This is the class that hooked me although it has changed a great deal since I took it.

The Center for Applied Imagination (ICSC)People ask me why do I, as the Senior Faculty Member of the department, teach the introductory class. The answer to that question is simple—I love to see the light bulbs go off in students’ heads when they realize that they are creative. By using what they learn, they can accomplish the goals, the dreams and the aspirations they have for their lives. I also love the age range of my students: 22-year-olds, fresh out of college, to 72-year-olds who are creating the next phase of their life.

I am fortunate to live in two worlds. I live in the world of academics where I can research creativity and experiment with new methods to teach the creative process, and I live in the world of business, where my creativity work produces bottom-line results.

I grew up on our family farm northwest of Greeley, Colorado. My Dad once told me that you can take the boy off of the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of the boy. So when I am not doing my creativity work, I work cattle on the SK Hereford ranch near Medina, NY.

It has been almost 40 years since that first creative studies class and I still have that passion for applying creativity. I would be honored to share my passion for creativity with you and your organization.