Creativity is what drew Dr. Roger Firestien to Western New York. Originally from Colorado, he came to Buffalo to receive a Master of Science degree from the International Center for Studies in Creativity in 1979.
He was a trailblazer of sorts. Back then, he was the seventh person to earn that degree. Today, there are more than 600 annually who graduate from the Center.
Firestien was the key speaker in a stop to the State University of New York at Fredonia’s Science Center for the fourth annual Northern Chautauqua Community Foundation’s Local Economic Development summit entitled “Forward Thinking, Forward Movement.” His presentation was not only upbeat, it kept those in attendance on their toes through plenty of participation.
More than 100 were in attendance for the summit, which lasted about 90 minutes Wednesday morning that later included highly attended breakout sessions that focused on solving challenges. Attendees included those from nonprofit organizations, staff members of the Fredonia Central Schools and the Board of Cooperative Educational Services.
Members from SUNY Fredonia and Jamestown Community College also participated.
On a disappointing note, however, was the absence of local elected officials who desperately need some creativity in making development happen here. To be fair, however, Chautauqua County Executive Vince Horrigan attended as did county Legislator George Borrello.
No mayors though. No town supervisors or board members.
Many of those elected needed to get out of their cocoons to hear this message. Participants and attendees were prime examples that creativity can be tough to grasp and accept.
Getting government or any entrenched organization to think outside the box is almost Herculean, because, Firestien noted the greatest obstacle to break-through thinking is attempting to go against your habits and see the world in a new way. Without someone to guide the process, the generation of ideas often will be met with criticism, which ultimately brings silence from those seeking new solutions.
We are all aware of our region’s past. Dunkirk was a city once filled with booming industry in the 1950s and ’60s and some 20,000 people residing here. Today, little has changed since a number of the old-time factories have closed except for one thing: population has taken a major dive of about 40 percent to its present 12,000.
A gem in a waterfront has been neglected for decades because ideas in the past, including casinos and condominiums, were frowned upon by what Firestien called “a reptilian response to new ideas.” He explained that while our brain is made of three parts, a reptile has only a brain stem. Its instincts are to either eat it, attack it, run from it, mate with it or not even see it at all.
“There’s a big difference between critical thinking and criticism,” he said. “Criticism is taking a look at what’s wrong with an idea. … Critical thinking is a balanced approach. You’re taking a look at the strengths, the potentials and the downsides connected to an idea.”
There’s money and progress to be made in this line of thinking. Buffalo is a prime example.
After Gov. Andrew Cuomo was elected, meetings were held with key stakeholders and elected officials to begin a process of looking to the struggling city’s future differently. Firestien and graduates from the center were called on to direct these meetings and discussions.
“When these proposals went forward to Albany the proposals were much more robust and much more refined,” he said.
In about three to four months, those findings led to what became the “Buffalo Billion.”
Of course, creativity does come with its failures. At the beginning of his presentation Firestien told the crowd they were allocated 30 mistakes. If they used them all, they would receive another 30.
“If failure is not an option, than neither is success,” he said, pointing to some of the greatest inventors including Burt Rutan in the aerospace industry, Thomas Edison and Wilson Greatbatch in the medical field. “I’d like you to change your thinking from trial and error to trial and learn because whenever we do something, we create as a result.”
So imagine the possibilities with this way of thinking for our region and its development. It worked in Buffalo. It can also work here as well … if we can keep the reptiles at bay.