CPSI 2016 – My first timer report

This was my first time at the CPSI conference – that is the Creative Problem Solving Institute – http://www.cpsiconference.com/ – pronounced “sip-see”.
I had known people who attended this in the past and they encouraged me to go since I’ve been going to the NEXT idea creativity retreat in New England and enjoy it (I’m presenting there this year, woohoo). CPSI sounded like THE creativity conference and has been going on for over 60 years, which is almost unbelievable.
I stayed in a dorm room right there on campus as it takes place at SUNY Buffalo. It was nice to be close to all the sessions, speakers, and meals. The most confusing thing is that they have different tracks you can register for and use their own lingo so if you aren’t familiar with it, you can get a bit overwhelmed.  They do have people who can help you decide and have info on the website about it. I signed up for “Extending” which is the way to go and do a variety of shorter 90 min or 2-1/2 hour sessions in all topics. You can go do more intensive tracks, focus on one thing most of the time. I wanted variety and to take in as much as I could and I was pretty happy with it.
Most of what goes on at CPSI is oriented around creativity (which is NOT just about art) but also around the creative problem solving model that uses divergent and convergent thinking to solve problems in creative ways. I learned some about it and hope to learn more. My inner “learn all the things” geek is like, OMG you can get a degree or certification in this!

Day 1 – The first day they had a session to welcome first timers, a break and dinner and then the keynote was delivered by the CEO of Faber-Castell and it was really interesting. The theme for this year was SHIFT. Lots of creativity and shifts of mindsets, perspectives, etc to be had. Very introverted me was open and social. I participated in the ice breakers at the opening session which make you get up and meet strangers among other things outside of comfort zones. I also sat with new people at dinner and chatted a little, though they chatted more than me.  After that, I went to Wegman’s because one must go to Wegman’s when in Western NY. Then I relaxed in my room for the evening.

Day 2 – The next day, I started with what they call a Spark session. I guess it is to “spark” your creativity and get you open and ready for the rest of the conference. I was so not in the mood for this or much of anything. I think I was just tired and cranky and in “away from the comforts of home” mode. It is an almost daylong session you pre-register for. I chose Illuminating the Intangible with Light Painting Photography with Laura DelPrato. She taught us light photography techniques and had us do some teamwork projects like charades using light painting and coming up with light paintings of our super powers from the ice breaker.

light painting photo demonstrating our super powers with use of lights

At the end, we made a big photo of the whole group and then she left some open time for people who wanted to ask questions or play. I waited until everyone had their turn and asked if I could do something holding an orb like one of her examples which turned out amazing. Working with like-minded people in this group really helped me get to know some new people and make some friends.

Light Painting Spark Session Group Photo by Laura DelPrato

Light Painting Spark Session Photo of Heather Shalhoub by Laura DelPrato

There was more available during the evening but this introvert was tired and needed to absorb everything from the day so I skipped those even though some sounded really good. They also have early morning get-togethers that I skipped because I am not a morning person even though they sounded great. Sometimes you just have to honor your personality traits and personal needs more than all the things you want to see and do.  There is always something to do between 7am and 12am each day at CPSI.
Day 3 – Today was full of shorter sessions since I did the extending track. I had a lot to choose from. The first session I attended was about silos and how to resolve issues among them to increase innovation. They had us all take their profile quiz on their website, Basadur Profile,  to find out our thinking and problem solving style and we broke up into groups with those who think like us to do some exercises to make it really evident to us all what strengths we all bring to the table with solving problems. It was pretty eye-opening as I am far more technical than I would have guessed but the description of my type really made sense. I am an Optimizer.

The second session was about communication styles and yet again, I was fascinated to learn how technical I am. We got grouped with others who scored similarly to us, there I was, all artsy and standing alone with an older gentleman who is an engineer. I have such a funny balance of technical and creative arts, left and right brain tendencies.  I learned a lot about getting different communication styles to work together, how to make sense of people who don’t make sense to you…because their style is so different from yours, etc.

After that, I attended a session on creative ways to deal with difficult people. That was interesting, if only because it was a room full of women, 1 male facilitator and 2 males in the whole crowd. Learned quite a bit there too. A lot about how to approach a difficult person with a different mindset and attitude, with intention for it to go well, among other techniques taught to us.
Day 4 – Another day of many session opportunities.  I went to a session on how to Relish Introversion at CPSI which was a delightful relief. We relaxed and journaled with some quiet music, learned tips for how to deal with big conferences that are very social and extroverted, met other people with similar needs and tendencies, I learned a lot about how it is okay to give myself permission to skip sessions if I need a break or skip a meal and go eat by myself someplace. I had done this but this really made me realize how important this is for me. .

After this session, the cafeteria food was not appealing so I went on a little field trip to enjoy some Pho at a nearby Pho Cafe. Delicious and some much-needed alone time away.

A bowl of Vietnamese Pho Soup from Pho Cafe in Buffalo NY

When I got back, it was time for an excursion. I joined a bus full of fellow conference attendees to go to Niagara Falls. I had been before with family as a stop on our way to and from visiting relatives in Canada but I wanted to go on my own and enjoy it instead of as a quick stop during a long car ride with my parents and sister.  I ran into a new friend on this trip, Monica. We both paid less to go on the un-guided tour and we ventured around together. She was my cheerleader to help me make the hike up the observation deck stone stair path in spite of my back being really unhappy.  She got me to the top by the falls to take pictures just in time. They closed that section soon after. When we got back to the dorm, we had not eaten so I happily offered to drive my new friend to Wegman’s because Wegman’s. I slept so well that night.

Heather Shalhoub standing next to Niagara Falls after hiking
Day 5 – More awesome variety packed sessions. My first session was amazing. A lovely Italian gentleman named Matteo was facilitating. He had sat next to me at the opening keynote session. This session was called Discover Your Fountain of Creativity and it was life changing for me. I had a massive shift that hit me hard later that night and I processed some feelings I had been bottling up for over 5 years. I can’t even put into words the amount of stuff he squeezed into this amazing session. We did physical movement, group work, non-verbal communication, dream imagination journaling, image journaling, collage, gibberish communication, had socks on our hands, etc. I had a massive breakthrough later that day and I know this session is what opened it up for me. Thank you Matteo!
My next session was with Roger Firestein who teaches creativity at Buffalo State.   Some of what he taught I already had experience with, like picture your ideal day, but then he threw in stuff I had never done like drawing my story board and some other cool journaling prompts. I actually bought one of his books after the workshop. Needless to say, by this session, I was thinking I should move to Buffalo and get an advanced degree in Creative Studies.  Now that I am back in reality, I still like the idea of studying creativity but think that maybe an online format might be easier than moving across the state.

After this session, I attended one on Problem Solving and Visionary Thinking in the arts as taught through the view of how the fashion design world works. It was pretty cool because we problem solved and used visionary skills to create a color scheme vision board and she had us play with fabric patterns to fold them and create new patterns out of existing ones.
I saw my suitemate for the first time in 4 days. She announced, “You’re alive!” when I got to our dorm suite. She was a cool lady from the Netherlands. We were both so busy that we had not crossed paths in 4 days. We had our own rooms but shared a bathroom in the dorm.  This is how you know you are at a really busy and active conference.

Day 6 – The last day. I looked around for people I wanted to get to see before I left and gave my card to a couple new friends.  I attended one last session about helping kids have creativity for life. My new friend from the light painting spark session (in the super power photo above with me) was facilitating her first workshop and she really wanted me to come so I went. It was a lot of fun and it was cool to see how she teaches creativity to elementary school kids in Brazil.
After this, I headed back home with an important stop at Strong Hearts Cafe in Syracuse for brunch. I enjoy a waffle and a milkshake (both vegan since I am dairy and egg free).

Vegan Waffle and maple syrup from Strong Hearts Cafe in Syracuse

Final Thoughts: 
Do I recommend this conference? Yes! It is the best conference I have ever attended. I usually only get to go to librarian conferences. It is a lot to take in. I think that unless you know you want to get intensive with one of the other tracks, Extending is the way to go, pick and choose from a variety of sessions, skip what you want, learn tons.

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