A public servant is entrusted with powers to solve the problems that affect a large number of people. The problems include poverty, inequality, climate change, distributive justice, peace, nutrition, clean air and clean water, access to education, and many more.
The public servant tries to solve these “grand societal challenges” with the help of other organs of the government. Even the United Nations has compiled these global problems first as Millenium Development Goals (2000) and subsequently, as the Sustainable Development Goals (2015), which every government tries to attain.
But these problems are complex characterized by the complexity, connectivity, dynamics, in transparency, and attaining many goals. These attributes require special competencies for dealing with the uncertainties of the given domains, e.g., critical thinking.
It is not IQ, but complex problem-solving competencies for dealing with complex and dynamic situations, that is important for handling these problems. These problems require competencies that go beyond analytical intelligence, and comprise systems understanding as well as systems control. Complex problem solving is more than analytic intelligence.
Problem solving is a processual view on intelligence. Real-world (ill-defined, “wicked”) problems normally show a series of attributes that simple (well-defined) problems lack:
- There is no clearly defined goal;
- There is more than just one (“the one and only”) solution;
- Information needed for the solution has to be actively searched for;
- There are dynamics in the problem situation (one cannot wait forever for a solution).
In today’s computers lingo this is called “artificial intelligence”. Systems competencies seem to be more important than intelligence. In the 21st century, skills such “critical thinking” (e.g., finding and evaluating relevant information), understanding the complexities and dynamics of large systems, and dealing with uncertainty better represent the requirements of life than finding the correct answer to a number-series task (as tends to be requested in conventional tests of intelligence). Systems thinking involves a collection of cognitive and non-cognitive features. It is a holistic approach, switching between a bird’s eye view and a detailed view, remaining calm and persistent in the pursuit of goals, and showing empathy for the acting persons, instead of focusing on simple cause–effect chains, with a preference for systemic thinking about loops with positive or negative feedbacks.
Let us take an important contemporary real-world problem, namely climate change. Analytical intelligence (based on rational choice assumptions) might argue that, with respect to the anticipated rising sea level and myself living far above sea level, there is no threat to me as a person. However, with empathy (as part of a broader understanding of intelligence), one could imagine the threat to people living on an island in the Pacific Ocean exposed to a rising sea level.
Thus if a public servant thinks in the above mentioned way, then we can say his/her current concept of intelligence is missing an ethical dimension. So a blend of ethics, wisdom and values will make a wise person act instantaneously and righteously. To become a wise person is a process that normally demands time and life experience. Wisdom should be one of the competencies of a public servant. Thus a public servant performing his/her duty in a complex context, should be a systems thinker, have proficiency in navigating complexity, be open-minded, long-term thinker, interdisciplinary, inclusive, and globally conscious.
To address societal needs, intelligence must be enriched by an ethical dimension. Also, a public servant must be “adaptive”, which is a new perspective of intelligent behaviour. Intelligence in all its forms is adaptive. The new perspective is on society and on the survival of mankind and therefore takes value into account. One should learn to deploy Transformational Intelligence, which is the mental abilities to create, expand and enhance possibilities. Therefore, “It takes something more than intelligence to act intelligently” is the contemporary need for any public servant.
This “something more” could be ethics, values, wisdom, empathy and adaptability. “Values” adds to the non-cognitive variables and “wisdom” to the cognitive variables. This will certainly make an important difference in the life of public servant while discharging his/her duties.