Profiles in Sustainability: Roger Firestein

Roger Firestein
Dr. Roger Firestein, Creative Experience Architect

I met Dr. Firestein, Roger, back in 1978 at the tender age of nine.  It’s telling that in the course of our lives, Roger could go from something of an Uncle to me in the creativity community to something akin to a colleague.  It is a testament to his approach to life that he could allow me to be who I was at different stages of my life instead of locking me into his memories of my childhood.

Roger takes me as I am.  This is important because as a facilitator of the Creative Problem Solving process, you allow people to achieve their potential, and sometimes that means allowing them to be different versions of themselves.

Roger fell in love with creativity in 1977. He was a music major at the University of Northern Colorado, he was in a music program and to earn money on the side he was teaching guitar lessons.  Almost by accident, because teaching in the traditional way was deadly boring to him, he was looking for ways to keep lessons interesting for his students, and by extension, himself.  His mentor at the University of Northern Colorado, Dr. James Wanner encouraged him to go far afield in his quest.

The grinding torture of learning proper guitar technique in a in a university music practice room was killing the extrovert in him.  He started reading about creativity techniques, experiences in visual thinking, a book by Sidney Parnes, Ruth Noller and Angelo Biondi.  The book was such a revelation it left him wanting more.  So, he pored over the microfiche in the library until he found the Creative Studies program at Buffalo State College.  He got the number and made the call.

“I was at my mom and dad’s house and I called out there and got the secretary at the department and asked her about the program, she says, “Well I’ll tell you what, Dr. Parnes is here, would you like to talk to him?”  Roger’s eyes opened wide as he pauses the story for emphasis, “I mean, here I was about to talk to the author of the book, I thought, shit, authors aren’t alive!  I honestly thought he’d be dead.”  Sid talked to him liked he’d known him for years, explained how they’d had this terrific problem solving institute for 25 years and it’s coming up in June, maybe you’d like to come out…”

Scan 23
Dr. Sidney J. Parnes

Roger is as animated as if he’s telling the story for the first time, his excitement is palpable through the din of the large busy coffee shop we’re sitting in for the interview.  “I came out after the call and said, hey Mom!  I just talked to Sid Parnes in Buffalo!”  Her response, “You made a long-distance call!”  Roger was awestruck, “I was literally shaking I was so excited.”

Roger went to the institute that June and when he came back he was on fire.  He came back to Colorado and finished his degree and then moved as quickly as he could to Buffalo.  He became the seventh person to get the Masters in Creative Studies.

From that day on, it was a high that he wanted to share with everyone.  Creativity allowed him to be himself, doing something he loved.  The experience finding his creative center was intoxicating.  It changed the course of his entire life.  Through life’s travails, he has found wells of strength and resilience in that creative self.  More than that though, teaching creativity techniques in groups, became a source of great satisfaction.

This is the heart of sustainability, isn’t it?  Ultimately, if you can find the sustainability in yourself, the continually renewing resource in your own life, this is the nucleus of creative action.  Once found, it is that much easier to find in others, then empower them to use their creativity as well.  That’s what Roger delights in.  It’s like sharing the pride of a baby taking her first steps.  Facilitation is an enchanting experience when people find their creative selves.

Roger has taught since he was 16 years old.  He loves being up in front of people.  So, when he and Diane Foucar-Szocki started a consulting business in the eighties, it felt perfectly natural to facilitate strategic planning and creativity education sessions.  He also became an adjunct instructor because he was interested in the cutting-edge research that was going on at the Buffalo State Creative Studies Department at the time.

In time, he decided to go for his PhD.  Back in 1987, much of the academic world was hostile to the study of creativity, so after consulting with Dr. Gerard Puccio about which major to choose, he settled on communications.

Roger spent decades successfully consulting with large companies making a name for himself and found a great deal of satisfaction helping people in the business world harness their innate creativity.  Businesses loved him too.  Employees that increased their own personal creativity and developed the follow-on ability to work well in groups, was a natural by-product of the Creative Problem Solving process.

Things were going great, but there was something more Roger needed to do.

Often when you’re moving forward in life, detours present themselves.  Life threw Roger a succession of debilitating curve-balls and to cope with circumstances beyond his control, Roger surrendered his fate to God and allowed the learning to begin again.

The next thousand great things start with the first idea

“Who knows what I lost in those years, but I think that it was really important to take me to a different place because I’m a different person now.”  His difficulties grounded him in a profound way.  It gave him a clarity of vision – and purpose that he previously could never have imagined.  “I told a spiritual healer about my hard times and she said, “Oh, they needed a monk at the monastery so you had to go be a monk at a monastery.”  The forced tempo change of his life helped his well-being in amazing ways. Sometimes life has a way of interrupting your train of thought and centering you on what is important.

Roger candidly admitted, “I always wanted to travel to an alternate universe and then it happened, I was in that alternate universe.”

For a few years he stopped working, declared himself retired.  But, as a natural extrovert, staying home was killing him.  When he decided to come back to work, Dr. Puccio from the International Center for Studies in Creativity had creativity seminars that needed to be executed and needed someone to give them.  Before Roger knew it, all kinds of work was heading his way.  It was as if the flood gates had been opened.  This time it was different though.  With a calm beatific smile, he says, “My vision has changed, it used to be that I was helping people use their creativity, but now I’m helping people use their creativity to do things that amaze them.”  There is a deep sense of purpose in the way he carefully words what he says next, “Now my mission is to do excellent, exciting work in creativity with people that I love.”

A colleague referred a client to him and Roger had to really think about it after talking with the potential client.  “It didn’t feel right.” Roger remembers.  The work didn’t light him up, he decided to pass the client onto someone else.  “I just didn’t want to do it, if I don’t want to do it then it’s a losing proposition for both sides.”

I think there’s a sense of faith (in God) protected me from some really awful times.  There was a time when he’d look at his bills and not know how he was going to cover them.  “You get more out of life when you just let things go, instead of trying to push all the levers, you develop a lot more flexible way of dealing with things.”  Being a creative guy, he uses his personal experiences to help people deal with their personal challenges, removing the obstacles in the way of their own dreams.

Better – Together

In creativity, we often talk about that “Aha” moment.  That moment of revelation, “The universe said to me – I have your back, but now you have some work to do.”  He reflects on the new, exciting phase of his life, “You get on a path, and I’m so much more committed to this route, I’m never going to retire I mean, I don’t work that hard.  I get to talk to people, go and do fun stuff socialize go to meetings, teach stuff, write stuff, why quit?”

A colleague called it co-creation.  Facilitating creativity is life affirming.  That’s where the sustainability comes in, the willingness, the desire to show people their own renewable resource in themselves, their creativity.

“You can’t chastise people from the pulpit.”  Referring to a leadership style that clashed with his own.  Throwing people out of the circle because they criticize you, isn’t brave, it’s a cowardly way of dealing with adversity.  Particularly in this age, more than ever people need to work together as community.  There are so many challenges around us, we need to facilitate each other’s personal creativity.  Roger is in for the long haul.  I’m sure I can say this about him, because in thousand little ways, for the past 38 years he’s been facilitating me.


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