Universities are not adequately equipping our workforce. Youth underemployment is rampant globally, and almost 50% consider themselves to be underemployed. Companies spend over $400 billion on learning and development, but few training rooms are well-respected. The smaller businesses that create virtually all of the new jobs do almost no training and the growing ranks of freelancers are left out entirely. Without a path forward, our poor stay poor and the income gap widens. Meanwhile, organizations grow more slowly than they would like, thirsty for talent.
Circle’s founder Daniel Hoffman’s previous startup, M5 Networks, grew to 250 employees. He made large investments in learning and development, but in hindsight, they were also cutting against the grain. Most employer-driven learning is backwards: learners must drive.
We no longer suffer from lack of access to information, or to know-how. We live in a tsunami of knowledge and advice. The problem is finding the best way to digest it all. University or company-driven training just doesn’t get learners engaged enough to go beyond passive participation. And these approaches don’t develop the most valued deeper skills and mindsets, like collaboration, communication, critical thinking, or creativity.
Peer groups accomplish the kind of deep learning that turns employees into talent. They help members solve problems, save them from reinventing wheels, and amplify their knowledge and networks. This is why almost 100,000 CEOs pay $5,000 – 10,000/year for groups like Young President’s Organization, Entrepreneur’s Organization, or Vistage. Moreover, peer groups become something like workout buddies that help members overcome obstacles, stick with a program, and sustain change. Weight Watchers and Alcoholics Anonymous are famous examples. More than 25,000 Lean In circles have sprung up in the past three years.
When a group jells, it scratches the itch for meaningful, deep, connection. And this need is at an all-time high. David Brooks summarized two surveys that show that in 1985 we averaged three really close friends, but by 2004 that number dropped to two. Even though we are linked to more people than ever, we are increasingly isolated. Confiding in a group of peers is fulfilling even as it is worthwhile. It can connect friendship, learning, and financial earning.
Circles is a business model to create guided peer learning groups at scale.
Circles fosters self-directed learning, the antidote to university or company-driven education. It takes advantage of new but already ubiquitous technologies like smartphones, group messaging, web content, and social media. It uses available data to match people likely to trust each other who want to go in the same direction. It works on the job, enhancing performance in the short-term while enforcing long-term changes that stick. It wrestles the glut of information into teachable moments. It is affordable for most workers while retaining healthy margins to pay for its own growth.
When it works, Circles will create legions of skilled learners. It will foster a learning lifestyle. This is the wish for more wishes. It can have exponential impact on individuals, companies and some of our biggest social problems.
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