Learning is a process, and it’s one that we can improve on. As David Shriner-Cahn perfectly put it on the 300th episode of his Smashing the Plateau podcast series, “breakthroughs don’t happen overnight, we learn about them overnight”.

David is a strategic consultant for corporations and individuals and an expert in behavioral change. He runs several peer mastermind groups, and uses peer groups extensively in his work.

Our CEO, Dan Hoffman, recently sat down with David on Smashing the Plateau for a thirty minute chat that led from Dan’s sabbatical in Barcelona to singing badly, learning Spanish, creating Circles and dissecting the process of learning one breakthrough at a time.

Click here to have a listen to the podcast over at Smashing the Plateau.

Below are some of the main points discussed.

What led Dan to launch Circles Learning Labs?

“I had a chance to think and reflect before taking on the next chapter… One thing that just kept coming back to me was learning. How do you build a culture of learning? I zeroed in on making a contribution to the system of education and learning in the world.”

What’s needed in the system of education and learning?

“There’s too much focus on being trained instead of on learning. If I could add any course to the curriculum it would be learning how to learn… It’s all too often that we confuse passively understanding something with actively being able to do it.”

Creating a team learning culture

“We did a couple of programs at work, that were experiments, to try and foster [a] learning culture. One of them was to hire the School of Rock to teach people how to play in rock bands.”

“I’m a terrible singer so I decided to do singing. I think my getting up there and being just awful [laughs] … gave permission to everyone else that this was ok… It starts with the leader not being afraid to be lousy and show that they need help and show that they’re learning along with the company.”

It’s lonely all over the mountain

“It’s not only lonely at the top, it’s lonely all over the mountain. There’s a set of social structures within companies that make it hard to bring your whole self to work”

“It’s a shame because unless the social structure is there, you’re less likely to ask for help, you’re less likely to share, to give help. It’s important to think about how can we reduce that friction and create people that are more deeply connected so that they can learn together.”

How does Circles fit into Dan’s mission of connecting the world through learning?

“You get the right people together, you put them in an intense video experience and you make it easy for them to connect day to day and you’ve built a personal advisory board really, a learning team, a very powerful, and missing, structure for a lot of people.”

How does Circles compare to professional one-on-one coaching?

“I would urge people to consider the peer group as an alternative structure where you’re getting seven coaches and mentors and giving; teaching is one of the best ways to learn too.”

What are really successful leaders doing to get help that others don’t?

“I think they all have peer groups, I really do, whether that’s Buffet and Gates playing bridge or people in YPO, or there’s some very elite peer groups I think it’s more and more common as people realize they need to think out loud, they need to think with quality people.”

“Tim Ferriss has this line that he repeats a lot about “you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with”. I think being deliberate about that is something a lot of top leaders do.”

On networking in an age of social media and online connections

“Getting very deep with a few people instead of pretending that Facebook or LinkedIn is your network, or that stack of business cards is your network. It’s not. It’s a few people that you really invest in, being deliberate about that and having a practice for giving and getting help with them is something that I’ve seen CEOs and leaders that I admire have as a regular practice.”