Lucy joined Circles looking for something a little different. (And she found it.) Now she’s leaving, but we’ll get into that part later.
Sometimes I interview people and think, “Man, I need to get a podcast going or something, because the passion behind this person’s voice is incredible.”
And I want people to hear that. And that doesn’t always happen, but it definitely happened on the phone with Lucy. I’m hoping that’ll shine through in this interview—because, trust me, when Lucy talks, you can feel it. You don’t just hear her answers, you feel them.
So let’s get into the fiercely passionate woman behind the learning experience at Circles who’s a sucker for mindful living and secretly hates warm avocados. (Weird, right? She gives us a peek into her favorites and not-so-favorites at the end of the interview.)
But before we get into that, in case you’re just joining us at the Circles blog…
What Exactly Is Circles? A Crash Course
Simply put, a Circle is a peer group focused on a common goal.
And it really is that simple. It’s all about inspiring human connection and using technology to do it. So if you’re looking for accountability partners and like-minded peers to group up with and tackle life’s biggest challenges with, you’re in the right place.
Want to join a group of like-minded entrepreneurs who face the same struggles you do? There’s a circle for that.
Want to get better at practicing mindfulness while you’re at your job? There’s a circle for that, too.
Want to start up a crazy cool company about learning, at the center of which lies your unshakeable philosophy on peer growth and human connection? There’s a circle for that. It’s called the Circles team, and Lucy’s been a key part of it.
Introducing Lucy Richards
The gal. The myth. The Circles legend. Let’s hear it for the leading lady herself.
Who Are You, Lucy?
So first, where are you based?
New York City, but I’m from Melbourne, Australia.
What is your role at Circles?
Part of Circles is that we’re building it on a Teal model, which is taken from the book Reinventing Organizations. [MP: Here’s where you can learn more about the Teal model.]
But it’s part of a whole broader movement and as part of that we don’t really have titles, as such. But, for the sake of LinkedIn, I’ve called myself Head of Learning Experience. But no one approved that and no one needed to approve that and I do other things beyond that.
There’s lots of big companies that are adopting elements of [the Teal model]. Companies like Patagonia, Southwest Airlines, and Ben & Jerry’s are starting to implement this model.
What exactly do you do at Circles?
I work with Dan, the founder, to support him and his vision to create an amazing scalable experience whenever learners connect to the meeting room. It’s an experience that really enables connection.
The way that I phrase it is that it’s using technology to increase human consciousness. And my role is to use technology to increase human experiences.
We’ve sort of identified the three key skills to increasing connection and consciousness in the world: having a growth mindset, feeling comfortable with being vulnerable, and storytelling.
So that’s my spin on it: Circles is a whole company about increasing human consciousness. From a corporate sense people would be like, “What are you talking about?” But that’s the vision that drives me and that Dan and I talk about in our back room chats. I’m just fascinated with how can technology enable human connection at scale.
What are your day-to-day tasks?
It’s quite varied, but recently I’ve been involved in building up the meeting experience. So thinking what does that feel like? and then putting processes behind that so it can then be used to train guides.
The other part of my role has been actually guiding circles [groups], so experiencing it for myself. And the other part of it is setting up Circles, so welcoming learners, getting them used to the platform, explaining what Circles is, and then I hand over a group of learners to the guides.
Why’d You Join, Lucy?
What drew you to Circles and what made you decide to join the team?
Definitely Dan was a huge part of that. He’s an amazing leader. It sounds kind of weird, but you kind of fall in love with Dan a little bit. I think a lot of people who know him would say, “Oh, yeah, I really love him.”
He’s got this amazing sort of soft leadership, but also very strong leadership at the same time. As part of that, he’s also very open and he’ll always listen, he’ll always want you to speak first, and that’s pretty amazing and encouraging.
And the other part of it is just the overall vision to connect people or to create experiences for people where they feel connected with themselves and others.
What were you looking for, professionally, before you found Circles—and did you find it at Circles?
That’s a great question. Professionally I was looking for some way to learn. I wanted to learn a whole lot of stuff and to have a strong leader lead that learning and to mentor me. And I absolutely found both.
It was awesome because Circles is about learning and I wanted to learn, so I’ve learned and I’ve learned about learning. And Dan has been amazing. And I would also give a shout to Sooz, who’s on the team, because she’s been curating a whole lot of information and articles and stuff. So it’s just like this constant flow of information that you can click through and learn from and it’s all relevant.
How have you evolved over the last year at Circles?
I mean, a lot. I think my biggest takeaway from it—which is so funny, because I’m now speaking in Circles [language], because we do takeaways at the end of each meeting—is about storytelling as opposed to giving advice, and especially in a peer setting how that can really open up the ability to build a relationship and build rapport with someone.
Should We All Join, Too, Lucy?
So what’s the big “why” of Circles—the big, passionate purpose behind it all?
This is my version of the answer, others would say differently—but the why isn’t very sexy. Talking about advancing human consciousness and creating connection is not really sexy in a corporate world.
But one thing that Dan said to me that really stuck out to me—and I think his why is—that it’s about creating learners, and building learners—and that an organization will only grow as fast as its people can.
So if you can, through the Circles experience, shape people so they have a sort of mindset and skills and their resilience to be able to go out into the world, they’re going to be better in the workplace. They’ll have the skills to grow and learn and teach and share—whether that’s in the workplace or with their family and friends.
What value have you witnessed in the circles you’ve led?
The most common takeaway, or common few takeaways, are, “Wow, it’s so nice to realize everyone has the same challenges as I do.” And, “Oh, this is so nice to have people to talk about this stuff.”
A tangible example of that is we had a group that came in and they started doing what is called the Wim Hof method. [MP: Learn more about the Wim Hof method here.] It’s like a personal training course kind of thing. And they’re doing it together and it’s crazy—you do like ice baths and all this stuff. It’s bizarre.
They did that over 12 weeks and then they say, “Okay, what are we going to explore next as a group?” And they decided on mindfulness. Halfway through mindfulness someone in the group said, “I really appreciate all of this, and I’m going to keep going with mindfulness, but I also want to use the group to help me with a big other goal I have which is to get my physical therapy license.”
And it was this turning point of, “Wow, this group of people who were complete strangers have now become friends. And peers—a real support to each other.” And she said, “I’m going to use you to hold me accountable to achieving this goal, which is really big and scary and I’m not going to tell anyone else apart from my partner about this.”
Can anyone benefit from a circle?
We had one learner who was part of a group for entrepreneurs that are less fortunate and she didn't have a camera on her computer. So she unfortunately couldn’t participate. So, hurdles aside like access hurdles and monetary hurdles – yes, anyone can participate.
Don’t Leave Us, Lucy!
What’s motivating you to leave Circles?
It’s related to Circles broader vision and my vision for Circles. I look at my mission as to create human connection at scale—increase human consciousness at scale—and I’ve only ever worked in small organizations. So I’ve never worked somewhere big and corporate. And I feel like, “How do I actually know what scale is if I’ve never been in it?”
So I want to go into a big organization to learn all of its slow, annoying processes and how frustrating it can be—but also the good parts of it. So I can then take what I want from that and be able to apply it to another setting.
What changes would you like to see at Circles in the next few years (even if it’s from afar)?
I think just continuing to grow, really. Keep involving the technology in the meeting experience and finding ways to do it at scale.
Do you plan on going back in the future?
I see it as an option, yes! It’s in the back of my mind, absolutely.
Let’s Get Personal: Fast Facts
Because do you ever really know someone until you know the random little things like what food makes them cringe and what their favorite book is?!
What’s one food you can’t stand?
Warm avocado! [MP: It took her a nanosecond to come up with this answer. She had this one READY.] I love normal avocado, like on toast or whatever. But if you put it on a pizza or in like a grilled sandwich, it just becomes a whole other food and it’s so disgusting.
What’s your favorite book?
One of my favorite books of all time is The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.
What’s your favorite marketing buzzword?
I talk a lot about building an emotional connection with the brand. That’s like my buzzword.
Do you have any New Year's resolutions?
Lots! I’ve already written them down. I want structure, I want to cook on Sundays, and I want to go to Charleston.
I had a friend of mine decide it was going to be the Year of the Human Being. [MP: If you’re looking for my favorite part of our whole interview, you’ve found it.]
Farewell to Lucy, Hello to The Year of the Human Being
Can you tell it was an absolute joy to get Lucy on the phone and pick her brain? She generously gave me over 45 minutes of her time, so while we had to cut down some of our interview to fit nicely into this blog post—and although she’s left Circles —don’t worry – you’ll get to hear more from her as we continue to dig deep into the team behind Circles.
Interested in signing up for a circle? (Why wouldn’t you be, honestly? I know I am.) Leave a comment below or get in touch here. Grab yourself a circle to help you tackle 2017, the Year of the Human Being. Because, really, that’s what Circles is all about.