The Memo v2.0: Building a "Leapfrog" University
07 Mar 2006

The Memo v2.0: Building a "Leapfrog" University

Date:              08 March 2006    To:                  All

07 Mar 2006
Date:              08 March 2006   

To:                  All Participants

From:             Arthur Harkins and John Moravec

Subject:        Building a “Leapfrog” University (Version 2.0)

Our Basic Concerns

The University of Minnesota is at a crossroads in its path for success in the 21st century.  With a goal to become one of the top three public research universities in the world within a decade, the University is engaged in an ambitious strategic repositioning process.  We can still do better.

We are concerned that the majority of recommendations from the strategic repositioning taskforces are leading us in a direction of reactive followership and potential stagnation.  Rather than putting forth ambitious goals for the future of the University, the reports back conventional catch-up models over a call for “leapfrogging” to preferred future leadership.  If the University ultimately engages in a plan to “catch-up” to other institutions, we are concerned that the likelihood of the University falling further behind in effectiveness and global competitiveness rankings will significantly increase.

Progress since Version 1.0

To date, we have received over thirty responses to the original release version of this document – all positive.  Respondents include University leadership, a department chair, senior faculty, students, a state leader, and the vice president of a major Minnesota company.  This updated version incorporates their comments and insights toward supporting the University’s strategic vision.

The previous release version of this memo is available online at /2006/02/20/minnesota-vision-v1/

Key Ideas

Leapfrogging means to get ahead of the competition or the present state of the art through innovative, time-and-cost-saving means.  One example of leapfrogging is Finland’s jump to wireless phones, saving that country the cost of deploying an expensive copper wire system.  Another example is present in some of the Kent, Washington public schools, which now permit students to use wireless Web devices to help them access information to better pass tests.  Leapfrogging has become a major strategy of developing countries wishing to avoid catch-up efforts that otherwise portend a high likelihood of continued followership.  A similar approach to gaining the lead rather than assuming a persistent runner-up role has been adopted by many industries, schools, and individuals. 

Commons-based peer production through open sourcing drives maximum participation in the innovation process. An example of open sourcing is a participatory democracy, in which everyone communicates with elected representatives.  Another is the company suggestion box (Toyota has one every few feet along the assembly line). While the concept of open sourcing has largely been associated with the computer software industry, the idea is obviously transferable to human systems, innovative leadership and management.  Previously locked-in situations, either organizational or personal, can be unlocked through the involvement of new people, new information, and new knowledge. 

Necessary Questions

  • How can academic units leapfrog in a university increasingly choked by rules and regulations? 
  • Should we emphasize a new leadership philosophy based on leading the university system rather than administering it? 
  • Does the system require parallel and overlapping forms of guidance? How much creative chaos can be permitted and tolerated? 
  • How does a university create suppleness, initiative, and much faster reactions to threats and opportunities?
  • Does this require expanded forms of variety, such as interdisciplinarity, transdisciplinarity, and even post-disciplinarity (individual learning contracts as the norm)? 
  • How much “requisite variety” of creative inputs is needed to avoid sluggishness, brittleness, and decline?
  • How can IMG be rendered harmless, at least in regard to its stultifying effects on creative collaborations across units?

Our Core Recommendation: Building on Creative Opportunities

We have been meeting for some time to discuss trends in higher education here and abroad, and have several key ideas about enhancing the agenda to move the University of Minnesota to the forefront of world universities. This will be no small task.  It will require a great deal of creativity and innovation, not just more variations of the same.

What drives our ideas and interests can be summarized in terms of the following concepts: a) an emphasis on initiative and proaction rather than reaction; b) policies that foster leapfrogging activities instead of catching up; c) reconsideration of the balance between disciplinary and interdisciplinary programs; d) recognition of the relationships between internationalization and globalization (the need to synergistically integrate these two concepts); e) an emphasis on innovative knowledge production, distribution and utilization; and f) development of lifelong learning programs that reach larger numbers and varieties of students and stakeholders.

For these tensions to become creative and productive, alternatives to the current planning process and its implementation must be energetically put into place.

Leapfrogging as a Product of Visionary Leadership

We must look beyond the horizon as well as toward the horizon. The most important of the University’s potentials is leapfrogging.  The practice of leapfrogging allows us to proactively and creatively build preferred futures through strategic reassessments and realignments of perceived challenges, opportunities and priorities.  This requires rapid change and a commitment to innovation among all levels of the University community.  We suggest these leapfrog steps for promoting the University’s forward motion and leadership:

  • Through globalism and internationalism, foster development of interculturally competent and socially responsible cosmopolitanism among students, staff and faculty.
  • Through learning to innovate, create learning and research environments that better facilitate the creation, innovative application, and sharing of new knowledge.
  • Through proaction vs. reaction, anticipate and build for preferred University futures rather than respond to current challenges and trends.
  • Through leadership vs. followership, demonstrate the University’s potential and capacity to drive new genres of knowledge production in the 21st century.
  • Through undergraduate knowledge production and innovation develop students that are not simply able to recall knowledge, but are also able to create new framings, meanings and applications of knowledge.
  • Through raising staff productivity as knowledge workers, utilize the strengths of the University as a diverse but collaborative learning organization and build value for internal and external markets.
  • Through innovative modes of knowledge distribution, identify, create and utilize new and future-oriented formats for sharing the University’s knowledge.

Realizing the University Potentials – Suggested Action Steps

  • Modify the current strategic process to take into account our proposal.
  • Focus on the University’s long-range leadership potentials as well as those being identified through the current strategic catch-up process.
  • Parallel each of the strategic repositioning committees with at least one more driven by long-range visioning and leapfrogging. 
  • Expect these parallel entities to chart “leapfrog curves” (pathways for rapid advancement) into the future.
  • Establish a long-range strategic visioning council with a continuing mandate to set ambitious strategic goals, develop indicators for evaluation, evaluate ongoing long-range strategy realignments, and provide recommendations to the President and Board of Regents for future strategic action. 
  • Install a cadre of problem solvers and process management owners to systematically ensure that performance gains are increased and maintained across the University. 
  • By Fall 2006, establish a grassroots development process involving a number of University Development workshops, labs, seminars, the Freshman Seminar program, and the Honors College. 
  • Stimulate the involvement of first-rate retirees, volunteers, staff, alumni, and creatives in workshops, labs, and seminars in the steps above. 
  • Elevate the importance of strategic and visionary globalism and proactive internationalization efforts to Senior Vice President level to best enable coordination among academic units, student services and University administration. 
  • Promote student learning that enhances their intercultural competence, ability to project and plan for as yet unimagined futures (strategic global futures assessment capability), and their social responsibility as globally engaged citizens.

Coda and Prognosis

The University of Minnesota is poised to lead as one of the very top research universities in the world.  A creative, edgy, leapfrog-driven University will create a vibrant, visionary, hard-charging, front-running and value-creating institution that everybody will be proud to variously support, work for, teach at, matriculate to, collaborate with, and donate toward.

An Invitation: Help Us Construct the Next Draft

The authors of this memorandum invite comments, corrections and additions to what we have written.  We especially request your thoughts on the application of innovative and dynamic design principles to the University’s future.

The initiators request that the University community and the public provide comments, corrections and additions to their position on achieving the University’s goal. The next draft, to be released on April 3, 2006, will take into account feedback received up to that time.


About the initiators:

Arthur Harkins, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the Department of Educational Policy and Administration and faculty director of the Graduate Certificate in Innovation Studies program at the University of Minnesota. 

John Moravec is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Educational Policy and Administration at the University of Minnesota.  Moravec’s doctoral dissertation research is focused on the future of knowledge production in Minnesota higher education.


Arthur Harkins, University of MN,, 612/743-7528

John Moravec, University of MN,, 612/325-5992


The following brainstorming notes are an example of leapfrog thinking being done by an academic unit that is investigating the creation of a novel advanced professional degree program:

Title Alternatives

  • Leadership in Knowledge-Oriented Organizations
  • Strategic Educational Leadership
  • Strategic Information and Knowledge Leadership
  • Strategic Global Education & Knowledge/Innovation Leadership
  • Human capital development


  • Cross-Disciplinary using resources of U of M local and international communities.
  • Cross-Program U.S. and International Business Systems Design and Management.
  • Serve knowledge-based economies (or those trying to become).
  • Create knowledge and innovation workers.
  • Designed to serve knowledge-based economies and create knowledge-innovation workforces.
  • Learning collaborative format (LCF)
  • Create and manage complexity
  • Create a knowledge and innovation workforce.
  • Create knowledge and innovation leaders
  • Synchronous/asynchronous format.
  • Discuss, discover, create trends and normative futures in global education, organization.

Scope: Global Markets

  • Academic Sector
  • Military Sector
  • Private Sector
  • Private Sector (HRD)
  • Government Sector
  • NGO’s
  • P-K-12
  • Tourism
  • Retired/Boomers
  • Mass Communication Media


  • ICT
  • Knowledge systems
  • Innovation
  • Creativity
  • Knowledge management leadership
  • Knowledge production management
  • Knowledge distribution management
  • Cultural design
  • Strategic global leadership
  • Reflective/creative thinking
  • Policy formation and analysis
  • Strategic research and development
  • Systems assessment and evaluation
  • Global systems dynamic (communication and travel)
  • Competitors and collaboration in global context
  • Strategic systems thinking
  • U.S. and international business systems designs and management
  • International law
  • Risk management
  • Anticipatory systems
  • Entrepreneurship

Leave a comment
More Posts