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Creative Problem Solving Institute celebrates by returning conference to Buffalo


“As you may know, Buffalo is the birthplace of the academic study of creativity (and the term ‘brainstorm’). This year my organization, the Creative Problem Solving Institute (CPSI) will be celebrating its 60th anniversary conference at UB North Ellicott Complex from June 18-22. The interesting thing about this event is that for about 10 years the conference was moved out of Buffalo. Last year, after enduring a financial crisis, the board of the Creative Education Foundation decided to bring the conference home. What is striking, is that a lot of people, here and elsewhere do not fully comprehend Buffalo’s creative history. Buffalo has long been a place where creative minds could experiment with art, music, architecture and landscape architecture. Mayor Brown recently proclaimed August 19th, “Sid Parnes Day” after the co-founder of the conference and Buffalonian passed away this last year. We are very excited about our 60th, our rebirth. It is no accident that the conference has come back home when the City of Buffalo, too, is being reborn.” – Rebecca Reilly, Director of Operations, CPSI 2014

For some background on all of this, following is an interview with Rebecca, regarding the Creative Problem Institute – a little past, present and future…

How is Buffalo the birthplace of the academic study of creativity, and what exactly is it and when was it born? Or was it already here and just needed a name? Who was behind it and why Buffalo?

In 1954 Alex Osborn and Sid Parnes co-founded the Creative Studies Program at Buffalo State College. Both of them were living and working in Buffalo at the time. They also held the first annual Creative Problem Solving Institute at Buffalo State that year. At that time there were no other academic programs that covered the science of creativity and CPSI was also the first conference of its kind.

How did the academic study of creativity affect the formation of the Creative Problem Solving Institute? When did CPSI form, why and by whom?

The genesis of the idea of the Creative Problem Solving Institute, is based on the principles of the Osborn-Parnes Creative Problem Solving Process and the rules of brainstorming. The first principle is that everyone is creative and the Creative Problem Solving process is a method in which anyone can systematically promote creativity for individuals and groups. Secondly, the rules of Brainstorming outline the most effective method of encouraging a creative exchange of ideas geared to producing quantum innovative results.

Was there anything like the Creative Problem Solving Institute at the time, and is there anything else like it now? Are we talking a group that has funding, employees, offices, etc. or is it more of a think tank of sorts? Will any tangible resources be coming to Buffalo, or simply the conference? What can Buffalo do to help with the transition?

At the time of its founding there was nothing like the Creative Problem Solving Institute. The success of CPSI has spawned many offshoots including the following: Annual African Creativity Conference-(South Africa), Florida Creativity Weekend, Mindcamp-(Southern Ontario), CREA-(Italy).

The Creative Problem Solving Institute is a week-long conference sponsored by the Creative Education Foundation. The Creative Education Foundation has headquarters in Scituate, MA. The Creative Problem Solving Institute, at present is run by staff based in Buffalo, NY. Neither is a think-tank but provides think-tank type experiences for individuals and organizations that are trying to introduce creativity supporting methods in the organizations or for personal growth.

CPSI will be bringing approximately 600 participants to Buffalo from WNY, Canada and as far away as South Korea and the Philippines (these are just our leaders, we expect a larger demographic spread once registration opens). These folks represent everything from multi-national corporations to education from primary levels all the way up to higher education and much more. At this point we have just begun a WNY-local community outreach effort.

Buffalo has always been a helpful and receptive community which is probably why the study of academic creativity and the conference were able to be imagined, supported and grown to their current states here. As Richard Florida infers in The Rise of the Creative Class, there is a social geography that creates the environment where creativity and innovation can flourish.
Buffalo can continue to help us by spreading the word about what we do. Buffalonians can continue to be curious and if they want to see what we do, on a smaller scale with community groups in the area, they should plan to attend “Community Problem Solving Day.” This event on April 12th is still in the planning phases but will feature the under graduate students of the International Center for Studies in Creativity, facilitating community problems for local community organizations and individuals for a fee of $2. The site is still to be announced.

CPSI is celebrating its 60th Anniversary Conference in Buffalo. It’s been ten years since the conference was moved out of Buffalo. Why was it moved, where did it go, and is it now here to stay? Will CPSI remain where it is? How does that work?

During a leadership changeover back in the early 2000’s there was a call for a strategic shift which seemed to be pointing more toward catering to the business clients’ needs and making the conference more glossy, offering sessions in a hotel rather in the campus setting. Since a lot of our participants and presenters are not actually from Buffalo, there was also some thinking that in fairness, moving it around the country would be good for the conference as a whole. It went to Atlanta, Amherst, Massachusetts and Chicago. Unfortunately no one could’ve predicted that it actually would lose participants because of these moves.

It is extremely likely that CPSI will remain here in Buffalo because when we brought it back last year our goal for attendance was 350 participants and we attracted 450. This year, because last year received such rave reviews, it is extremely probable that we will make it to 600 participants. After two years of huge gains, the logic will speak for itself and with the recommendation of the CPSI committee to the Board of Directors, it will be likely to stay in Buffalo for yet another year. Since I have an important role on the committee and I am a Buffalonian, I have made it my personal mission to keep CPSI in Buffalo forever. There will be opportunities to have the conference, as a smaller version in different locations during the winter, for which there is a precedent. For many years CPSI in Buffalo was referred to as “Summerfest” and “Winterfest” which was also an annual event, was held in San Diego.

A financial crisis, along with the passing of the co-founder of the conference last year… and now a move home to its birth place. With everything else going on in Buffalo now, was that also a consideration for the move? Ultimately whose decision was it to move back to Buffalo, and what does this city stand to gain with this rekindled relationship?

In all honesty, the entire board of the Creative Education Foundation does not live in Buffalo. As a consequence I suspect none of them had any real idea about Buffalo’s renaissance. That, sadly, is just a coincidence. The really special thing about the conference coming back to Buffalo is that, this city of good neighbors was also regarded as the perfect caring community return the conference to its original dynamism. We aren’t coming back because all of sudden Buffalo is doing great, we’re coming back because Buffalo HAS ALWAYS A BEEN GREAT PLACE.


You say that this homecoming is like a rebirth, for the organization, the conference, or both?

I would have to emphatically respond that the revitalization of both our organization and Buffalo is a positive fact. It’s extremely exciting. I left Buffalo in 1987 to go to college and really didn’t come back home until I was discharged from the Marine Corps in 2010. For decades I’ve come back for holidays but was too discouraged by job opportunities and cultural divisiveness to stay. In 2010, the city really put me in my place and blew my mind. Perhaps, I didn’t take the time on my short visits, but I did some in-depth exploring and fell in love with my hometown and decided to stay.

CPSI’s story is much the same. There was wonder and beauty in the experience in years past. Then that experience dissipated. For years it resembled a business conference. Last year we blew the lid off the project and really integrated some great stuff from the surrounding community like Caribbean Extravaganza, the African American Cultural Center’s Dance and Drum troupe, and art from Locust Street. So yes, it is a rebirth I think, for all of us.

The Creative Education Foundation funds CPSI and the conference? The organization’s tagline is “Where Brainstorming Began”. The term brainstorming was born in Buffalo – was the process “officially” born here as well?

The term, “Brainstorming,” was coined by Alex Osborn who lived here in Buffalo and co-founded the Creative Studies department at Buffalo State College with Dr. Sid Parnes. The Creative Studies Department is now known as the International Center for Studies in Creativity and is still at Buffalo State. Alex and Sid also created the “Osborn-Parnes Creative Problem Solving Process” which is the process on which many other creative problem solving processes are based.

Can you tell me about CEF based in Massachusetts? What other initiatives does it stand behind?

CEF was founded by Alex Osborn in 1954. Its original home was here in Western New York. For years it had headquarters at Buffalo State College and then in West Seneca.

• Worldwide creative education
• Providing a symposium for cutting edge creative thinkers
• Clearing house for creativity books
• Providing the “Journal of Creative Behavior” published by Wiley Blackwell. This peer-reviewed journal was originally produced in 1967 by Dr. Sidney Parnes. It offers articles on fostering creativity, managing creative personnel and quantitative analysis about the science of creativity.


What can we expect from the conference and all of its ties to resources outside of the area? How can Buffalo best utilize these ties? What organizations and businesses and people should be paying attention to this development?

In this age of social collaboration, whether in the creation of technological quantum leaps, handling collective responses to social issues or adapting the changes that things like 3D printing and consumer designed products, our conference and other creativity programs will provide a method for people to traverse the complexity of group innovation through a proven process, and methodology. Not only will participants be able to network with people around Western New York, but around the world by simply bumping into them and sharing ideas, in our purpose-designed environment. Unlike a typical business conference which is delivered in a pedagogic expert lecturing to student environment, there is a pervasive attitude of willful experimentation. Support and care are worked into the most seemingly innocuous interactions. It’s a feeling Buffalonians are well acquainted with. Here, we think nothing of helping a person push their car out of a snow drift, donating to a kid’s cancer campaign we saw on the news…This generosity of spirit pervades our conference and sets the stage for people to share experiences and best practices which transcends a multiplicity of cultures. You could easily see a fellow who runs a tree planting organization sharing insights with an administrator from a college in Windsor, Ontario and many more examples abound.

Organizations that should pay close attention are those that are in highly competitive fields, or operate in stagnant environments. People that might be interested are managers looking to get the best out of their employees, teachers looking to fulfil regulatory requirements but also want to fulfill a human quotient in the classroom.

Creativity is everyone’s birthright and so anyone who wants to lay claim to their creativity might be interested in what we have to offer.

Learn more about the CPSI Conference

Check out the following sites for more background:

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Written by queenseyes


Newell Nussbaumer is 'queenseyes' - Eyes of the Queen City and Founder of Buffalo Rising. Co-founder Elmwood Avenue Festival of the Arts. Co-founder Powder Keg Festival that built the world's largest ice maze (Guinness Book of World Records). Instigator behind Emerald Beach at the Erie Basin Marina. Co-created Flurrious! winter festival. Co-creator of Rusty Chain Beer. Instigator behind Saturday Artisan Market (SAM) at Canalside. Founder of The Peddler retro and vintage market. Instigator behind Liberty Hound @ Canalside. Throws The Witches Ball at The Hotel @ The Lafayette, and the Madd Tiki Winter Luau. Other projects: Navigetter.

Contact Newell Nussbaumer |

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As former faculty with the International Center for Studies in Creativity (ICSC) at Buffalo State, I was so excited to see this article! I have worked with Rebecca and her mom (Dr. Jo Yudess, also associated with the ICSC, CPSI and Buffalo State) over the years, and both of them are doing so much to get people involved with creativity and bringing attention to Buffalo's unique connection to the field (Rebecca with CPSI and Dr. Yudess with some amazing undergraduates at Buffalo State and in the community). 

Ms. Kelley's comments are also right on; especially as an introvert, and one who has facilitated brainstorming sessions, I can attest to the fact that it works equally well with all MBTI preferences. Trust is, of course, quite beneficial to success in brainstorming and in organizational leadership in general; though I would agree that truly trusting environments are harder to create than one might think (I have worked in various organizations and I have seen it all).

Kudos to Rebecca for her hard work and to Buffalo Rising for publicizing this unique event!  


I'd be curious for the reaction to this New Yorker article from 2012: Groupthink - The Brainstorming Myth.  (It was written by disgraced journalist Jonah Lehrer but it raises interesting questions.)

The first empirical test of Osborn’s brainstorming technique was performed at Yale University, in 1958. Forty-eight male undergraduates were divided into twelve groups and given a series of creative puzzles. The groups were instructed to follow Osborn’s guidelines. As a control sample, the scientists gave the same puzzles to forty-eight students working by themselves. The results were a sobering refutation of Osborn. The solo students came up with roughly twice as many solutions as the brainstorming groups, and a panel of judges deemed their solutions more “feasible” and “effective.” Brainstorming didn’t unleash the potential of the group, but rather made each individual less creative. Although the findings did nothing to hurt brainstorming’s popularity, numerous follow-up studies have come to the same conclusion. Keith Sawyer, a psychologist at Washington University, has summarized the science: “Decades of research have consistently shown that brainstorming groups think of far fewer ideas than the same number of people who work alone and later pool their ideas.”

miriam kelley
miriam kelley

@paulbuffalo The Nemeth study, which was described in the New Yorker article, is the standard "let's debunk brainstorming" article quoted everywhere without actually reading the study. What people don't know is that the respondents in the Nemeth study who were given "the standard brainstorming spiel" (words from New Yorker article) were actually not given the standard rules. First off, they were asked for "good ideas" only- thereby not actually deferring judgement- and they were NOT given instructions to build upon each others ideas, which is another one of the 4 rules of Divergent Thinking (Defer Judgment, Strive for Quantity, Seek Wild and Unusual Ideas, Build on Other Ideas). By self-censoring, they obviously would come up with less ideas. Also not spoken of is the equally important Convergent Thinking. In a true brainstorming session, the group would also follow a set of rules to take those ideas and narrow them down to a select few to move forward to developing and implementing solutions. In other words, Brainstorming doesn't exist in a vacuum. Convergent Thinking (rules: Be Affirmative, Be Deliberate, Check Your Objectives, Improve Ideas, Consider Novelty) must be implemented to actually determine whether an idea is good or viable. There is no mention of that in the Nemeth study either.

Lastly, Brainstorming is one of many divergent thinking tools. There are many other tools to help stimulate novel and useful ideas in a group or individual situation. It would be nice if authors would stop being lazy, passing on quotes without understanding if they truly carry weight.


@miriam kelley

Thanks for the comment.  I've seen numerous corporate scenarios over the years that attempted to use brainstorming and most instances were disasters that did more to cause psychological bruising of the individuals participating -- and expose managerial weaknesses of persons leading the group -- than encourage good ideas.  Generally, corporations don't do a good job of fostering creativity and, considering how corporations conduct employee evaluations, employees often self-censor to avoid negative judgement and its corresponding consequences.



You seem like a smart guy. I can't believe that you just tried to debunk something as profound and uniquely Buffalo as CPS by quoting a loser like Jonah Lehrer.

 And, even worse, you destroyed your own argument before you even began. As you remind, (It was written by disgraced journalist Jonah Lehrer...). Next time, read all of the research before being so purposefully negative.

And, since you like NY Times articles, I included one for you to read about Jonah. Enjoy.


@miriam kelley

purely idle speculation, but i wouldn't be surprised if brainstorming (implemented properly, of course) works best when you have a room full of extroverts.  those of us who are introverts do our best thinking and come up with our best ideas when we are alone.



I'm well aware of Mr. Lehrer and that's why I noted his fall from journalistic integrity.  Additionally, I'm not trying to debunk anything.  I chose to use his article to seek comments here for a better understanding of brainstorming and its possibilities in a corporate environment.  Certainly, when applied in an artistic realm, there is greater breathing room for brainstorming.  Indeed, the arts are all about brainstorming.  The corporate world?  Not so much.



From my own experience, I have seen brainstorming work well when the group feels that they can trust each other without judgement.  Unfortunately, the arenas for such collaboration can be rare.

miriam kelley
miriam kelley

It's true that the make-up of the group can have an impact, one way or another, on the quality of the experience as well as the ideas. This means that at least two important things need to be in place: the strengths and training of the facilitator and the tools that are chosen to diverge with. A good facilitator will be able to ensure the comfort level of the participants. Well-chosen tools, such as Brainwriting which allows "individual ideation" while still in a group environment, may help take into consideration the preferences of those who like to think and ideate in a more individual way.