In Creativity, Retreat is Not an Option

Here’s a guest post from good friend and colleague Doug Stevenson. A brief note about Doug — he’s probably the most inspirational trained brain to be found on the planet — he’s the ideal “idea man” and if you need someone to give you 100 ideas about Anything, this is the guy. This is his account of his CPSI (Creative Problem Solving Institute) experience. I’d asked him to do a guest post as I couldn’t attend this year. I find it pretty amazing the lengths people will go to to connect with their creativity and the creative community. In challenging times, take Doug’s advice, don’t worry about your brakes — head for the light, and never retreat in your quest for greater creativity…here’s his inspiring, and authentic, post:

“Between Brakes (Breaks)” by Doug Stevenson 7/3/2011

“I head towards the light, the white space around the visible and furrow in the fissures, cracks and expanses outside the lines.”

It is in this spirit that I first attended a creativity event that has changed my life first in 2001 and just again recently in 2011. The conference is called the “Creative Problem Solving Institute” or CPSI. (sip-see)

Every year, it is an oasis – a place for discovery, replenishment and revitalization for the creative spirit. It attracts a diverse audience from innovation practitioners to personal wellness professionals, teachers, marketing folks, etc. It is my habit and my history to just head toward the light, even if it blinds me. I discard the map and follow the vacillating needle of the compass. It was in this mode that I first drove like a maniac through the night to my first CPSI and I did the same again recently.

First of all, there were a myriad of challenges with which I had to deal, not the least of which were limited finances and failing car brakes. Given my financial constraints, I needed to drive to Atlanta to save airfare and rental car fees. I had secured a place to stay with a friend, but it was 20 minutes away from the venue, so I needed affordable transportation. So, when the guy at the CarX said my brakes would cost $1000, staying home became a consideration, but really not an option. So, I needed to find a solution. First thing, I got a second opinion. That guy said the brakes were worn but drivable, provided I exercised caution and the brake light never came on fully.

It is with information that I began the trip laced with decision hurdles and filled with opportunities for creative problem solving. In rapid succession on the trip down I had to: start driving and see if the brake light came on, test the brakes as I drove, determine whether to turn back, select a point of no return, find a map select an optimal route with a minimum of mountains, practice downshifting & upshifting, check a weather map as there were thunderstorms that followed me from Indianapolis to Atlanta, call ahead to advise on my ETA, negotiate arrival time, find my way to my host’s house, deal with a power outage in his home, rest for a big day ahead and find directions to the venue – the Atlanta Sheraton. (Whew!)

What stood out was the decision making around the weather conditions on the way down. Several times, although I was rushed and pressed for time, I had to stop to avoid dangerous weather conditions just ahead that left felled trees, accidents and stranded cars in it’s wake. Also, in my host’s home alone, as darkness was falling with no power, I had to locate candles and matches in an unfamiliar environment. No light, no sound and no familiarity with my environment. I was like Audrey Hepburn as the blind woman in that movie (“Wait Until Dark”).

Thankfully, I had for some reason packed a pocket LED flashlight, which for the next 8 hours my beacon of light in the void. When the power came on, it was washed away, but I will never forget the sense of loss over what had been my beacon of light, connecting me to my survival. It was no longer a necessity, but the lessons of silence and the dark lingered with me. Funny how so little means so much in trying circumstances.

My survival and my successful arrival at CPSI had come as the result of creative problem solving outside the normal networking of safeguards. And so it was at the conference too. My rewarding work with YouthWise consumed my time at the conference, allowing no time for me to partake of the many conference curriculum choices. So my rich CPSI rewards, like my trip down, was to be found in the cracks – in the “breaks/brakes” in between – in the white space – two quick conversations with hugely histrionic, wacky and creative juggernaut Jon Pearson, a conversation with Marios Micheledes on Karaoke Power Point, and several meetings with Bob Anthony of Adolescent Wellness with whom I may be traveling to Ghana, India & Singapore as a result of the conference (maybe). Of course, YouthWise was a great experience. I learned a lot what it was to be a kid again – and the kids did wondrous things, including wonderful auction paintings, a great rendition of the Michael Jackson song “Man in the Mirror”, a kick-butt presentation to Coca-Cola and general hilarity.

My advice is that we all have creative problem solving skills within us. Never mind the challenges – actually mind them – but mind them creatively and head towards the light. Be systematic and unconventional at the same time. Retreat is not an option, as you will find the sustenance you need wherever you find it, even in the sinews and cracks, so “head towards the light” and trust the process. It worked for me.


    • glad you were able to go to CPSI 2011 Doug

      Missed you on Wednesday when I was there.

      When I looked into the YouthWise rooms you must have been on a break.

      Sorry I missed you.


Posted in Creative Problem Solving (CPS), Creativity and Self-Expression, Humor, Idea Generation, Inspirational