Incubators, Incubators, Everywhere

einsteinDoing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result paraphrases Einstein’s definition of insanity, and one of the insanities of engineering education is the belief that the same old organizational structure (with the same old culture) will give us something substantially different in the delivery of an engineering education.  The current organization of higher education goes back to the German idea of a university developed in the 19th century, which itself was built on the scholastic notion of universities of the middle ages.  To move beyond University 2.0 of the 19th century requires some rethinking of structure (among other things), but one of the promising directions is the idea of an incubator as implemented at The Illinois Foundry for Innovation in Engineering Education (

iFoundry connects across the organization to achieve lateral alignment not from the top-down or the bottom-up, but from the middle out.  Two principles guide the design of iFoundry: respect for faculty governance and the open pilot of innovative programs.  The normal departmental vote on curriculum essentially vetoes curriculum innovation (“transformation is fine, just don’t change my course”).  An incubator cuts this Gordian knot, permitting innovation and requiring a vote for final change, thereby respecting faculty approval processes.

The model continues to function at Illinois, and it is being taken up by others, including schools in Singapore and Brazil.  The generalization of these ideas is the notion of a respectful, structured space for innovation or an RSSI, in which a meso-level dot connector connects across an organization for lateral alignment.  These topics are part of the ThreeJoy smooth change methodology used in change initiative engagements and change training courses.  Write for more information.