Creative leaders necessary to push boundaries further

Public Service Commission chairman Eddie Teo.
Public Service Commission chairman Eddie Teo. PHOTO: ST FILE

Public Service Commission (PSC) chairman Eddie Teo's observations of the shortcomings of PSC scholarship candidates are pertinent concerns for our nation's future ("What 18-year-olds tell us about Singapore's future"; last Saturday).

A key reason for Singapore's rapid advancement was our ability to emulate other countries' successes and adapt them to our own needs.

In healthcare, we started by basing our system on the British one, such as allowing free outpatient care.

A small fee for outpatient services was later imposed to alleviate tax burdens and give patients payment flexibility.

In national defence, we adopted the Israeli model, and instituted compulsory military service at age 18 and built up a reserve force.

This was adapted by shortening its term to ensure our young males had adequate time for their academic and professional careers.

In education, we took a leaf out of the Swiss book that emphasised both academic and vocational pathways to build broad-based skill sets relevant to the knowledge economy.

We took that a notch further, and introduced various schemes, such as the Integrated Programme, that have provided even more pathways for students.

Mr Teo's concerns about our potential scholarship holders' inadequacy in foreign affairs knowledge is troubling, because without this knowledge, we will not be able to learn from the best practices abroad.

However, what is more worrying is the lack of creativity and risk-taking. This will prevent us from continually thinking up novel modifications to foreign systems to make them effective locally.

Singapore is arguably at the forefront of technology and governance, and it is necessary for our government leaders to have the courage and creativity to push the boundaries further.

We can do this by either including more private-sector talent among our leaders or tweaking the scholarship selection process to select future public leaders who are creative.

To attract creative people, creative recruiting techniques need to be adopted. A psychometric test followed by an interview is not sufficient to fish out these people.

Rather, scan resumes for evidence of innovation. This can be followed by full-day camps that include idea-pitching sessions and impromptu thinking exercises.

A longer-term solution is to embed creativity into our education system by building creative spaces in schools, providing mentorship and financial resources for students to innovate, and giving opportunities for divergent thought.

Leonard Loo Kok Swee

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 16, 2015, with the headline 'Creative leaders necessary to push boundaries further'. Print Edition | Subscribe