Sidney J. Parnes, leader in creativity, creative studies - The Buffalo News
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Sidney J. Parnes, leader in creativity, creative studies

Jan. 5, 1922 – Aug. 19, 2013

Sidney J. Parnes, Ph.D., internationally renowned as an expert on creativity and the founder of the creative studies program at SUNY Buffalo State, died Aug. 19 in San Diego. He was 91.

Dr. Parnes partnered with advertising executive Alex Osborn in the mid-1950s to develop the Osborn-Parnes Creative Problem-Solving Process, based on Osborn’s brainstorming techniques, and to organize a method for teaching it.

An Army veteran of World War II, he earned his master’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh in 1953 and completed his doctorate in education there in 1954. He met Osborn at the first Creative Problem-Solving Institute conference and used that as a model for a Creative Retailing Conference at the University of Pittsburgh. Osborn then recruited him to help develop his ideas.

Dr. Parnes in 1956 joined the faculty at the University of Buffalo, which had offered a course in creativity, as an assistant professor of retailing. In 1967, he went to Buffalo State to start a pilot program in creativity and became the founding director of the International Center for Studies in Creativity.

In the early 1970s, he launched the Creative Studies Project with colleague Ruth Noller. It determined that creativity could be taught and learned effectively. That led to the establishment of the world’s first master’s degree program in creativity at Buffalo State in 1975. He retired and became a professor emeritus in 1984.

Dr. Parnes became president of the Creative Education Foundation in 1967 after the death of Osborn and served until 1984, then was chairman of its board of trustees. He continued to serve as a lifetime trustee. He also became director of the Creative Problem Solving Institute, which was held annually at Buffalo State from 1966 to 1984.

He was founding editor of the quarterly Journal of Creative Behavior, the first publication devoted entirely to the science of creativity, now in its 46th year. At Buffalo State, he assembled a library on creativity with more than 2,400 volumes.

Dr. Parnes published more than a dozen books on creativity, notably the influential “Creative Behavior Guidebook” in 1967, and hundreds of articles. He spoke at conferences, workshops and seminars around the world and received numerous awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Innovation Network.

On its website, the Creative Education Foundation notes that Dr. Parnes “emphasized two key principles on deliberate creativity. First, creativity is the result of a balance between divergent and convergent thinking and, second, everyone can be taught to apply creative behavior in their personal and professional lives.”

A full-time resident of La Jolla, Calif., since 2005, he maintained homes in Buffalo and California for many years. He last visited here in 2009, when he was honored by more than 150 colleagues, students and friends in a reception at Daemen College.

“He was truly a humble man,” said Bill Shephard, who succeeded Dr. Parnes as director of the Creative Problem Solving Institute. “He lived out the principle of deferment of judgment. He was always looking for a way to make it work. And that’s contagious. He really passed that on. He influenced thousands and thousands of people throughout the world.”

Survivors include his wife, Beatrice, whom he credited for assisting him in his research; and a daughter, Susan.

His legacy will be celebrated at the 60th Creative Problem-Solving Institute next June at UB. Other memorial programs will be arranged in Buffalo and California.

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