Alex de Waal’s recent blog included a long and interesting quote from Jean-Marie Guéhenno. In a way, Guéhenno would seem to be in agreement with Kissinger. They both seem to assert the importance of prior intellectual knowledge and high-offices are less of a place for growing intellectually. What Kissinger articulated was: “High office teaches decision making, not substance. It consumes intellectual capital; it does not create it. Most high officials leave office with the perceptions and insights with which they entered; they learn how to make decisions but not what decisions to make.”
However, I think this is only true for high-office holders at well-established institutions and not to office-holders where institutions are weak or absent.
Strong institutions have established norms, values, principles, clear structures, and operational guidelines. They have their own life, their institutional environment imposes limitations and border lines to whoever operator gets into them. They are like an established science laboratory where operators are expected to make right decisions in using them, a practice that only requires prior intellectual knowledge and acquaintance with the rules and standard operating procedures of the lab.
In the same parallel, the absence of institutions for a someone who wants to experiment means he/she should build his/her own laboratory, an exercise which requires a lot of thinking, weighing options, and even theorizing. A high office in the absence of strong institutions means he/she faces with intellectual challenges every now and then. This means office holders are required to think, practice, re-think, and theorize. I would imagine that office holders will intellectually grow as they are constantly challenged intellectually in a ‘free’ environment to think and practice.
The leaders of the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), for example, were young boys in their early twenties with very little intellectual capital. At their early age, they were faced with several challenges and questions to meet and answer. What form of struggle- violent or peaceful?, If violent which form of violence-urban insurrection or protracted armed struggle? Whichever they choose, they were required to determine the tactic and strategy to use in all fronts and aspects of the struggle. The type of challenges they faced and the questions they were required are so many to put them in one piece and they were constantly changing through the development of the struggle in the 17 years of the armed struggle and the early days in government. This meant that they were constantly engaged in knowing, thinking, practicing, refining thinking etc…This meant that high-officers in the TPLF both during and after the armed struggle were growing intellectually rather than consuming what they had. In short while agreeing to their articulation on the importance of prior intellectual capital in operation I tend to disagree with its generalization.
It would be very much interesting to discuss the meaning of this reality to the uptake strategy of research outputs. What is relevant research product for policy community and how should it be packaged so that the policy community can read it and make use of it? are some of the questions that needs to be further discussed.