The Memo v4.0: Building a "Leapfrog" University
17 May 2006

The Memo v4.0: Building a "Leapfrog" University

Date: May 17, 2006 To: All Participants

17 May 2006

Date: May 17, 2006

To: All Participants

From: Arthur Harkins and John Moravec

Subject: Building a “Leapfrog” University: Renovating Undergraduate Education (Version 4.0)

“A Noble Quest” (as suggested by Robert Giampietro, retired VP, Target Corp.)

A new paradigm founded on the convergence of globalization, the rise of knowledge societies, and accelerating change is emerging. This calls for an entirely new mission for all levels of education with a new mindset and vocabulary for action. The Leapfrog Paradigm emerges when societies, organizations and individuals employ innovative means to surge ahead of the competition. Consider the Leapfrog Paradigm in Minnesota, and:

Imagine a second “Minnesota Miracle”…

  • Where Minnesota is the leader among knowledge and innovation economies
  • Where no Minnesota student fails in schools and colleges
  • Where Minnesota’s citizens are the global standard for leading edge human capital development and application

Imagine the University of Minnesota…

  • As the leading university in the world within a decade
  • As one crucial link in a chain of free education opportunities for PreK-17 learners
  • Bolstered with advanced networking technologies to support continuous innovation from the freshman year onward

Imagine Minnesota students…

  • Having completed a University of Minnesota graduate degree by age 21
  • As innovators, leaders, and visionary change agents

Embracing the Leapfrog Paradigm as a Pathway to Success

We can achieve a second Minnesota Miracle within a decade. The pathway is through the innovative organizational practices and mindset of leapfrogging. We contend the first nation or state to adopt the Leapfrog Paradigm, bolster it with advanced communications technologies, and apply it in Pre-K through graduate contexts, will either continue to lead or will acquire newfound leadership among emerging knowledge and innovation economies.

In this memorandum, our focus is placed on the undergraduate education required to produce knowledge and direct it toward continuous innovation. We call for an entirely new undergraduate education mission –one that requires a different vocabulary and mindset compared to the now globally-distributed education missions for agricultural, industrial, and information-based societies. We believe that reforming undergraduate education to lead the competition in knowledge production and innovation is accomplishable; that it is appropriate, harmonizes with workforce needs, and better prepares students for post-graduate work.

Under the circumstances it will not do to simply call for interdisciplinarity, which mostly turns out to be cross-disciplinarity. Achieving the Leapfrog Paradigm will require transdisciplinarity (the dynamic creation of new disciplines) and postdisciplinarity (the creation of routinely productive uniqueness at the level of the individual).

To date, we have received many responses, formal and informal, to the first three release versions of this document. Respondents include University leadership, a department chair, senior faculty, students, a state leader, students and faculty from other public research universities, and leaders of Minnesota companies. This updated version incorporates their comments and insights toward supporting the University’s strategic vision.

Previous release versions of this memo and supporting appendix are available online at /leapfrog

Key Ideas

Leapfrogging means to jump over obstacles to achieve goals. It 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.

A Leapfrog University relentlessly disrupts itself to compete successfully in the global knowledge and innovation economy.

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.

Requisite Variety refers to the levels of internal diversity required to detect and to cope with internal and external problems and opportunities, turning these into innovational successes. Proactive and reactive response times are critically important factors in the successful growth and application of Requisite Variety.

Chaordic Leadership refers to the capacity of all Leapfrog University community members to perform and innovate within the ambiguous space that exists between order and chaos in enterprise. It is within and near these boundaries that transformative leadership can function routinely and successfully in Leapfrog University. Chaordic leadership is required of everyone in the academic community, together with their collaborators from other contexts.

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 budgeting processes be rendered harmless, at least in regard to its stultifying effects on creative collaborations across units?

Undergraduate Knowledge Production in Leapfrog University

Knowledge production results from the conversion of information to actionable form. Routine knowledge production at the undergraduate level would constitute a major paradigm change for tertiary education and would constitute the backbone of a world-leading Leapfrog University.

We contend that creative knowledge production by youth is essential for societies planning to compete and collaborate successfully in the global economy. Knowledge production results from the transformation of information into formats suitable for actionable decision making. We believe that undergraduates who learn to participate in knowledge production can help catalyze a shift from curriculum consumption and mass education to knowledge production, meaningful personalized education, and innovation.

Below, we define six types of creative knowledge production which we assert are critical to successful participation in the work and civic forces of the 21st Century. The six types of knowledge production, driven by constructivist theory and supported by continuously available advanced technology, are:

  • Mode 1: rigorously developed scientific and scholarly knowledge;
  • Mode 2: rigorous, collaboratively developed knowledge that is intended for highly practical applications;
  • Mode 3: subjectively developed knowledge intended for personal applications;
  • Mode 4: experientially developed knowledge that defines the capabilities and limitations of human contexts, including cultures;
  • Mode 5: machine developed knowledge beginning to emerge from expert systems and very early artificial intelligence;
  • Mode 6: integrative and chaordic knowledge that fosters the most effective uses of knowledge Modes 1-5.

While only the first two of the six modes of knowledge production are routinely employed in undergraduate education, the full range of modes offers students many opportunities to demonstrate the goodness of fit between their studies, their lives, and the demands of everyday life in an innovative global economy where knowledge production is increasingly socially distributed.

In order to avoid the perpetual game of “catching-up,” we offer nine quite different archetypal undergraduate development futures. These types permit institutions to strategically place themselves within or beyond the confines of historical practice.

All nine of these archetypes may choose to employ the six modes of knowledge production and utilization in different, market-centered ways. Every such choice can readily manifest the characteristics of Leapfrog University by helping to create variety, new strategic alternatives, and new innovation potentials.

  1. Genius-Centered Future (Individuality Product). Focus on uniqueness development creates graduates capable of functioning as articulate, proactive individualists, in other words as human intellectual leaders.
  2. Think Tank Future (Knowledge Worker Product). Students invent most of their own education experiences, evolving graduates capable of joining the workforce as full-fledged knowledge workers bent on innovation.
  3. Development Teams Future (Collaborator Product). An business opportunity focus creates graduates who have worked in teams to produce patented or copyright materials, have started companies or non-profits, and have joined or created professional societies appropriate for their interests.
  4. Student Services-Based Future (Student Culture Product). Students are matured within a culture nurtured by redefined and upgraded student services. Graduates leave college able to work well with as creative assistants in similar programs.
  5. Global/International Learning Future (Globalized Individuality Product). This holistic approach creates students who can work within existing and emerging global cultures. The students utilize language translation devices and in-country experiences within local/global systems development models.
  6. Old Economy Personnel Development Future (Student Employee Product). A talent/interest development approach permits business and industry the opportunity to locate potential star employees earlier in life. Chosen students are financially supported throughout college while acting as apprentices.
  7. Home College Future (Family Culture Product). The domestic venue permits wide age-range access to services, including co-generated curriculum choices, domestic experiential learning options, campus- and age-independent services, and assistance from learning consultants.
  8. Experiential Innovation Future (Context Worker Development Product). Students are selected for their capacity to integrate knowledge products. Their education is experiential in advanced design and innovation contexts. They may be paid to engage in tertiary education, and/or they are charged nothing on their loans while in school (e.g., Tony Blair’s recent student loan plan).
  9. Chaordic Systems Future (Chaordic Systems Design and Management Product). Students are selected for their capacity to work in the phase-shifting contexts of uncertainty, unpredictability, and limitless diversity. They are provided the latest in simulation software, including advanced games, to hone their skills at coping with chaordia. Students are helped to develop the skills to work primarily in virtual space and time through simulations, games, and prototypes.

We believe that the above-mentioned nine scenarios allow for innovation based on the continuous rejuvenation of knowledge resources based on attention to the creative, inventive, and innovative individual. Even the several more traditional approaches require applications of innovative social capital to help them survive and evolve. We contend that, in particular, the production of Mode 3 knowledge offers stakeholders very appealing returns on investment in tertiary education, since most innovation begins in the mind of the creative individual. We also heavily favor Mode 4 knowledge production, or the creation of appropriate contexts or cultures to help students competitively leverage their futures.

Required: A New Emphasis on Undergraduates as Creatives

The Leapfrog University will invariably need to rethink its approach to undergraduate education to develop and cultivate the creative potential of its students. To this end, University leaders need to address several questions:

  • How can the University vastly expand its impact on undergraduates and vice-versa?
  • How do undergraduates routinely produce tacit and explicit knowledge, and then employ it innovatively?
  • Can the University move to create expectations of innovative leadership among its undergraduate students?
  • How can this daily expression of personal capital growth become part of expected services delivered by the University?
  • How can the University expand both personal capital and social capital, in part by making the substance of each more individualized and purposively developmental?
  • Can the University of Minnesota shift from industrial/information-age models of human capital preparation to knowledge/innovation models?
  • Can the University seriously focus on recognizing and developing the uniqueness and variety of undergraduates through technology-supported, individualized learning services?
  • Can the University focus more on student innovations as opposed to context-free testing and rigidly constrained paper topics?
  • Can the University become more experiential and experimental as it moves toward knowledge based, innovation-supportive learning services?
  • Can the University support development of the innovative individual through lifelong subscription services?
  • Can the University provide new subscription networking for its alumni, productively linking them to one another and to undergraduate students?

We assert that every functional adult, including undergraduates, is already practicing an implicit skill set with strong ties to the broad development goals of tertiary education, especially those common to research universities. We also claim that the average undergraduate exerts far more inventive and innovative activity than credit is given for, and that tertiary education should address itself to facilitating the processes of invention and innovation while generatively collaborating with undergraduates.

The arguments for this association are two:(1) that the “ordinary” undergraduate could benefit enormously from continuous contact with a Leapfrog University, especially if the undergraduate body is part of a society moving toward continuous innovation; and (2) that a Leapfrog University would gain enormously from inputs of information, knowledge, and ideas from its undergraduates. The proposed task of a Leapfrog University becomes two-fold: (1) to assist the “ordinary” undergraduate to become “extraordinary” in ways that emerge from collaborations between the two parties; and (2) to evolve the Leapfrog University and its undergraduates as co-leaders in knowledge development and its subsequent innovative applications.

We submit that the ordinary undergraduate’s skill set includes a host of capabilities common to the professional practices of research universities. We believe that such skills should become the core of knowledge producing, innovation-focused curricula and pedagogies. Some of these skills, all associated with expansions of personal and social capital, are:

  • inductive and deductive thought;
  • construction of theorems and hypotheses within more or less well-known contexts;
  • generation of new ideas and knowledge through applications of analogies, similes and metaphors;
  • conscious and intuitive decision-making;
  • time and task management;
  • creation of alternative futures through projections and systemic constructions;
  • use of philosophy, including logic, values, ontologies and epistemologies,
  • tactical and strategic constructions of candidate realities, decisions, and actions;
  • reassessments of the past, present, and anticipated or preferred futures,
  • reassessments of self and others in differing contexts;
  • constructions of mental simulations as heuristic and self-instructive virtual realities and worlds;
  • role playing, role shifting, and role creation;
  • dualistic and non-dualistic thought;
  • continuous generation of multiple perspectives of systems in their simplicity, complexity and organization;
  • self-leadership and the leadership of others;
  • construction of decision algorithms;
  • continuous experimentalism in negotiating daily decisions;
  • continuous reassessment of the value of personal experience and outside resources;
  • emotion management;
  • focusing on intellectual leadership;
  • knowledge of and engagement with hard, soft, and bio technologies;
  • the generation of correlational and causal associations;
  • engagement in information searches and data mining;
  • development and interpretation of meaning;
  • creative understandings of impact potentials;
  • creation, application, and extensions of knowledge-in-context;
  • uses and creations of language suitable for engaging in the preceding activities;
  • continuous creation and redefinition of alternative personal and collective cultures; and,
  • ongoing creation of preferred futures and reinterpretations of pasts and presents.

These skills may be understood as evidence of an implicate professionalism demonstrated in countless daily acts carried out by literally billions of ordinary people. We define implicate professionalism as the protean layer of competencies, skills and performances that characterize expressions of personal and social capital. It is these complex forms of implicate professionalism that a knowledge creating, innovation focused Leapfrog University, through individually constructed services, can and must develop among undergraduates.

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

  • Amend the current strategic process to take into account our proposal.
  • Adopt the Noble Quest to lead a second Minnesota Miracle and become the leading university in the world within a decade.
  • Focus on the University’s long-range leadership potentials as well as those being identified through the current strategic catch-up process.
  • Append each of the strategic repositioning committees with at least one more driven by long-range visioning and leapfrogging.
  • Expect these 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.

An Invitation: Help Us Construct the Next Draft

The University of Minnesota is poised to lead a second Minnesota Miracle. The Noble Quest calls for nothing less than a cognitive and praxis-oriented shift toward the Leapfrog Paradigm. A creative, edgy University that leads in this paradigm 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.

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 realizing the Noble Quest. The 5.0 draft, to be released in Summer, 2006, will take into account feedback received up to that time. The next draft will include a focus on graduate education and the necessity for PreK-17 collaboration in realizing the Noble Quest.

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. candidate 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

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