Sid Parnes: Creativity thought leader for over seven decades

June 25, 2009

by Tudor Rickards

Sid and Bea Parnes

Sid and Bea Parnes

Sid Parnes epitomises a thought leader. Throughout his long and productive working life he has inspired countless people through his work on creative problem-solving

Sid was honoured in celebrations at Buffalo [May 8-9th 2009] by members of a global community of creativity practitioners and researchers which he did much to found and nurture. In January 2012 he was further honoured on his 90th birthday.

A personal reflection

I first met Sid in the 1970s. Buffalo was already attracting educationalists and business people to CIPSI, (The Creative Problem-Solving Institute]. It took me a while to figure out the complex relationships between its week-long conference, the Creative Education Foundation, and what became later known as the International Institute for Creativity at the State University of New York, (SUNY) Buffalo. I probably haven’t got the full story, but what is clear is that Sid Parnes had a hand in the developments of all three.

On my first visit he was already recognized as the benign figure behind the Summer conference. His reputation had been established for his pioneering work with Alex Osborn on brainstorming. Together, they had developed Osborn’s original concepts into the Parnes Osborn approach, a well-codified system at the heart of the CIPSI events.

Business practice and body painting

At the time, CIPSI also offered an enormous number of presentations and workshops of all kinds. You could find keynotes given by distinguished scholars such as Mo Stein, Don MacKinnon, Paul Torrance, and J. P. Guilford. had attended earlier meetings. There were many electives on creativity in education, humanities and business practice. You could try body painting, meditation, dance, and various religious experiences including table-top performances from a celebrated dancing priest.

Each of the five days provided training and practice in one stage of the five stages of the Parnes-Osborn problem-solving model. Day one would be objective finding, day two fact finding day three problem-finding (‘in what ways might we…’), day four ideas finding, day five acceptance finding. If it seems a bit rigid a structure today, and it was to become far more flexible as alternative delivery modes were tested and modified over several decades.

Sid and his Pantograph

One fond memory I retain is that of Sid moving briskly from one part of the campus to another, clutching a bundle of papers and a pantograph (to illustrate his beloved principle of divergent and convergent processses in creative problem-solving. His progress was interrupted for greeting his many friends and students. But he somehow still managed to get to his destination on time. [The Pantograph image is from Office Point Five Star ]

Sid and Bea

For that, as for many other things, his progress was almost certainly aided by the equally indefatigable Bea. Together, they represent all that is life-affirming about creativity and service leadership. Over time, Susan and I got to know Sid and Bea well, and cherish their knack of making everyone want to spend quality time with them.

Creative Problem-Solving

Somewhere, I have an annotated set of pre-publication notes that Sid sent me. They later were turned into The Source Book for Creative Problem Solving: A Fifty Year Digest of Proven Innovation Processes, one of his classic publications.

Thought leader

Sid, you epitomise not just thought leadership, but thought into action leadership. You have transformed the lives and actions of countless people through your work and your life. It is the greatest pleasure to affirm this as part of the celebrations on the occasion of your eighty seventh birthday.

A Community tribute

A community tribute from the 2009 event can be found on the Tribute to Sid website .


Creative Leadership and Creative Problem-Solving

September 28, 2008

Research into creative leadership and creative problem-solving seem to be converging. Gerard Puccio outlines work coming out of Buffalo’s International Center for Studies in Creativity

Two research groups which can claim to be among the longest-established internationally are those at The Manchester Business School England, and at the State University New York, (SUNY) Buffalo.

The groups have collaborated on the nature of creativity since the 1970s exchanging ideas and scholars. Buffalo has appointed two Alex Osborn visiting Professors from Manchester, and Manchester has been where members of the Buffalo group (including its current Director) have completed their doctorates in creativity. Further collaboration between the groups is planned after exchange of visits this year.

In his visit to Manchester, Professor Gerard Puccio, Director of Buffalo’s International Center for Studies in Creativity traced the origins of the Buffalo creative problem-solving model from the pioneering work of Parnes and Osborn (inventor of brainstorming) to its current form.

For many years the Parnes Osborn model of creative problem-solving was taught as a sequence of steps which were sometimes modified, but retaining the appearance of a mechanically-applied process.

The Manchester and Buffalo work arrived at similar conclusions through countless practical applications of the basic model. At Manchester, cohorts of MBA students tackling business projects with the MPIA model (Mapping, Perspectives, Ideas and Actions).

Its similarity to the Parnes Osborn classical model of Objectives, Facts, Problems, Ideas, Solutions, and Action steps (OFPISA) is clear.

Both groups have moved towards a process-oriented approach to creative leadership and creative problem-solving.

The approaches also subscribe to the importance of a team facilitator or leader whose job is primarily to encourage the other team members to be open in the generation of ideas.

The view from Harvard

The principles are accepted by other researchers into creativity. At the time of writing of this post, [September 2008] an article in Harvard Business Review by Professor Teresa Amabile and Mukti Khaire of Harvard Business School offer similar guidance for stimulating creativity. They advise leaders to map stages of any project so as to target creative opportunities, create mechanisms for enhancing diversity and its benefits; for better collaboration, and for leaders to achieve ‘an appreciative audience’ .