Dr. Roger Firestien, Senior Faculty Member at the Center for Applied Imagination at SUNY Buffalo State speech at the Creativity Expert Exchange, October 2017. Kicking off, our first speaker has taught more people to lead the creative process than anyone else in the world. He is the Senior Faculty Member at the Center for Applied Imagination here at SUNY Buffalo State. He is the Co-Director of the i4 Studio, Buffalo’s idea lab located at the Innovation Center on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. He is the author and co-author of five books. Fun fact about him, when he is not engrossed in teaching or facilitating, he quite literally herds cattle. Please welcome, Dr. Roger Firestien!
Good Morning. How is everybody doing this morning? Wow. Wasn’t that a party last night? Did everybody have a good time? A little music this morning? Why not. I fell in love with creativity in 1977. I started college in 1974 as a music major at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley Colorado. To help pay for college, I taught guitar lessons.
Let’s do this together. You guys do the, “knock, knock, knock.” Ready? I noticed that my beginning students were getting bored with their lessons. I thought if I could get my students to get creative about their music, they would enjoy their guitar lessons more. I started reading about creativity. I read this wonderful book called, The Courage to Create. I read a really interesting book called, Applied Imagination. I read Conceptual Blockbusting. I read this really cool book called Experiences in Visual Thinking. As I was reading through the books and looking through the bibliographies in back of the books, I found that there were two names and one place that kept coming up consistently in the literature. Those two names were Sidney Parnes and Ruth Noller and this place called the Interdisciplinary Center for Creative Studies at the State University College at Buffalo.
In April of 1977, I was living at my parent’s house on our Farm in Colorado and my room was down in the basement. I got up the courage to call the Center. And so, I dialed the Center from the wall phone in the basement. I talked to the secretary Jenney and I told her about my interest in creativity. And Jenny said, “Oh, Dr. Parnes is here. Would you like to talk to him?”
Now, I am 21 years old. I never knew an author who was alive. All of the authors that I knew were dead. And, now, I was going to talk to the creativity rock star, Sid Parnes. Sid gets on the phone. We had this wonderful conversation. He told me about this thing called the Creative Problem Solving Institute – CPSI and this brand-new Master’s degree program in Creative Studies. When I got off the phone, I was so excited, I was shaking. I hung up the phone. I ran up the stairs and I said to my Mom. “Mom, I just talked to Sid Parnes in Buffalo, New York.” Do you know what she said? She said, “What? You made a long-distance phone call!” Long distance calls were pretty expensive from rural Colorado in 1977.
So, in 1977 I attended the 24th Annual Creative Problem Solving Institute and I took a three-week graduate course. Here are the notes from the institute and that course. I went back to Colorado and I finished up my [undergraduate] degree. My Mom said, “When you got off the plane all you could talk about was creativity and Buffalo. We couldn’t get you to stop talking about that stuff.” I was accepted into the Master’s degree program in January of . Although at the time I understand that Sid was a little reluctant to accept me into the program because I was so young.
In June of 1978, I packed up 1973 Ford Maverick, with my guitar, and drove across the country by myself. I was 22 years old. I remember telling my Mom as I was leaving said, I said Mom, “I don’t know if I am going to make any money doing this, but I sure do love it.” So, I came out and I got my Master’s Degree in 1979, and I believe I was the 7th person to get that degree.
This is what the process looked like back in 1979. You had these five steps in the process. You had Fact Finding, FF, Problem Finding, PF, Idea Finding, IF, Solution Finding, SF and Acceptance finding. And we had the divergent and convergent diamonds.
In addition to studying Creative Problem Solving, we studied things like Synectics – two versions of Synectics, we studied Creative Analysis, we studied General Semantics Now, Synectics, Inc. held very expensive open registration program that they held in Boston. In August of 1981, my friend Bill Shepard and I saved our money, we drove to Boston and we took this course. This course absolutely blew us away. We came out of that three days and we were incredibly on fire. And one of the things that was so cool about this course was this creative problem solving sequence flow chart. I loved this thing. It was so clean. Look at that you’ve got, “What’s a brief history?” here. Are you seeing some things that are looking familiar? What are the pluses of the idea? What are the concerns about the idea? It told you what to do. It was clean. It told you what to do at every step of the process. It was so wonderfully prescriptive and I loved that.
Now, as I was going over my notes for this presentation. And as I found the notebook. I had the notebook. I was digging through the back of the notebook and I came across a legal pad that I sketched in August of 1981 that I think is really the genesis point, or the nexus point for the creative process as we know it today. Do you want to see it? It’s right here. Ok, alright. I put it up there too. So here it is. And if you take a look at this. This is where I blend Creative Problem Solving and Synectics. Springboards became problem finding. Itemized response became solution finding. Also in 1981, my two friends, Bill Shepard who I went to Synectics with and my friend and colleague Diane Foucar-Szocki. We started a consulting company. The company was called Multiple Resource Associates. To survive we had to innovate. We had to evolve the process. So, in 1981 and 1982, there were a whole bunch of inventions that came about in the creative process. The client, facilitator, resource group was developed. That whole model got developed. The idea of the process buddy was invented. Pluses, potentials and concerns was invented, and highlighting was invented. Let me tell you about pluses, potentials and concerns and highlighting. One of the things that happened with the earlier process is that when you got done generating ideas, those ideas always got mashed into a matrix. Now a matrix is a really cool tool, but it stands alone and it takes some time. So, as we were going through the process we have all of these ideas and all of this energy, we would put them into a matrix and the process would bog down. One day we were experimenting with this itemized response technique from Synectics and Diane said, “Why don’t we put something between the good stuff, the pluses, and the bad stuff, like a potential or a potential direction?” Hence, pluses, potentials and concerns was born.
One day we were working with a client, and by the way, this is before post-its were invented. So, we are writing these ideas down on a flip chart. And I turned to the client and I said, “Ok, we’ve got all of these ideas, now pick the best one. I got this “deer in the headlight” look from the client. The client didn’t know what to do. Because there were lots of “best” ones. So, we had to invent a tool to deal with that. And the name of that tool was called, HRHP.
Here’s how it works. Once you have all of these ideas, you mark the hits. Then you take the numbers of the hits, you form them together into a “hot spot.” And then you rephrase and paraphrase the hot spot. When Diane said let’s call it highlighting, we went with that. We liked it a lot better.
In 1984 Sid Parnes retired and I was fortunate enough to get his position here at the university. One of the things that I have always done is share the innovations I learned in business with my students. So, in 1984, if you were to take a class with me, this is what the process looked like. And you can see that there is some blending going on. From this work, here. You can see some prescriptive work happening. You can see a bifurcation here between Pluses, Potentials and Concerns and Criteria.
In the mid 1990’s we were having some problems with language. People were saying what’s the difference between idea finding and solution finding? Didn’t we just do that? So one day in the mid 1990’s, Bill Shepard, Jonathan Vehar, Hedria Lunken, Blair Miller, and I sat around my living room and we invented the Plain Language model of Creative Problem Solving. Some of you might be familiar with this. Now, “Plain Language” isn’t a really sexy name for a model. But we Plain Language did was to make the model, the process assessable to everyone. And, that’s what we were after. We were looking to make the process assessable. And to continue to make that accessible, Jonathan,Blair and I wrote two books. This is the second edition of Creativity Unbound and CPS Facilitation. You are now on to the fifth edition. And the process continued to evolve. In 2005 the Thinking Skills model came out based on the research that Laura Switalski did. Marie Mance, Gerard Puccio and Mary Murdock introduced the thinking skills model. And the evolution continued. In 2010, the Foursight Model. Take a look at that, twenty-nine years.
My goal in this business has been to make creativity simple, make it practical and help people to apply their creativity in their world. A number of years ago, I was talking to a colleague of mine, and she said, “Roger you share all of this stuff with your students. Aren’t you afraid you are training your competitors?” I said, I really don’t see it that way. Because, I’m not training my competitors. I am training my collaborators. And so, my collaborators, let me just say this to you. Teach each other. Share what we have learned. Credit your sources because we stand on the shoulders of giants. Do no harm.
Because, I taught you. I taught you. I taught you. I taught you. I taught you and I taught you, I taught you. And all of you, all of you, have taught me.