Ruth Noller: Creative Leader

June 17, 2008


Obituary

The Creative Education Foundation announced with deep regret the death of one its much-loved figures:

Noller, Ruth B. [Oct. 6, 1922 – June 3, 2008], Sarasota, formerly of Buffalo, N.Y. Ruth was a dedicated wife, mother, mentor and educator; a Navy veteran of World War II; and distinguished service professor emeritus, State University of New York.

According to the CPSI Hall of Fame

Dr. Noller is the State University College at Buffalo [SUCB] Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of Creative Studies. She served as a Consulting Editor for The Journal of Creative Behavior. Among her numerous articles and books on creativity are Mentoring:An Annotated Bibliography, Mentoring: A Voiced Scarf, Scratching the Surface of Creative Problem Solving, and with Sid Parnes, Guide to Creative Action and Creative Action Book. Also a talented mathematician, Ruth was beloved by her SUCB students.

International Influence

Like many of her international contacts, I became aware of Ruth first though her reputation as a scholar and pioneer of Creativity Studies. The Guide to Creative Action, and Creative Action texts were precious practitioner manuals. Copies obtained at CPSI conferences in the 1970s become influences in the less developed territories for creative problem-solving around Europe, including The Manchester Business School (which was subsequently to supply two Alex Osborn visiting Professors, and another two doctorates now back at SUCB, as leaders of what is now the International Center for Creativity Studies).

Later I was to meet Ruth in person on quite a few occasions, mostly on visits to Buffalo’s creativity community.

Her numerous friends in the creativity world have been prompted to record their affection and respect. My recollection is of her providing a centre of calm and sensibility in a maelstrom of creative frenzy in which calm and sensibility were not the most common of commodities.

Ruth also emanated that other characteristic of creative individuals, tolerance of and respect for other people’s perspectives. So she was able to live alongside the new Worlders, dervishes, corporate executives, systems theorists, and assorted alternative philosophers from dancing priests to tree worshippers.

One of Ruth’s students was Scott Iaksen, who was later to become head at Buffalo State’s Center for Creativity Studies. He recalled a meeting with J.P. Guilford where he was able to converse with the great man, thank’s to Ruth’s comprehensive curriculum he was taking at the time.

Another student, Marci Segal recalls her mentor at the International Center for Studies in Creativity. Throughout their relationship Marci continued to learn key insights that guide her facilitation practices.

“A facilitator is a guide by the side rather than a sage on the stage,” Ruth said again and again. Ruth also helped Marci discover how true learning begins with curiosity, and how applied learning is supported through measurement, by affirming what went right and improving upon what went wrong. “The impossible just takes a little longer”, Ruth would smile.

An acknowledgement to Ruth captured many of the warm memories of friends and colleagues. It also included much about her illustrious career, including one piece of trivia from Chris Barlow:

… after many years, knowing she worked with Grace Hopper, one of the stalwarts of the IT revolution, I asked her about the famous story about the bug in the computer.

Many people in IT have heard the story about how in the early days before vacuum tubes computers were assemblies of electromechanical switches. Every shift test programs were run to make sure everything was working correctly. One night, the system kept generating errors until an operator examined the system and found a moth stuck in one switch. Removing it allowed the computer to operate correctly. Most are taught this is the origin of the term “bug” in the computer, although the term was used earlier by Edison and others in discussing their problems.

The last time I saw Ruth I asked if the story was true. She laughed her great laugh and said it sure was. She told of Grace finding the moth, coming out and saying “I guess I found the bug in the computer”, and she placed it in the log book and told Ruth to get the tape and tape it down. They made a note to the effect that they had found the “bug” in this computer.

In So Many Ways

In so many ways over so many years, Ruth helped so many people get at the bugs that were hindering their personal and professional development.

Truly a creative leader.

Acknowledgements

In completing this post I learned that the post mentioned had been created in honour of Ruth by Tara Coste and Alan Black. Alan’s great labours in the creativity world can be found though his blog

TR, Manchester, England, June 2008

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