Leo Bottary and Randy Cantrell talk to our CEO Dan Hoffman on their podcast, Peernovation.
Study Groups Can Change Lives, Fast. – Daralee Barbera, GAMA International
In the lead up to LAMP 2018, nearly twenty leaders from across the financial services industry went through a four part training to become experts in online coaching. The group included names like Bob Bacigalupi, Thomasina Skipper, Sina Azari, and Lisa Kelenic. The training was all part of a new program called GAMA Circles which takes the power of study groups and adds expert facilitation, training, and technology to make it easier than ever for GAMA members to develop, practice and apply new leadership skills.
Study groups have long been one of the most effective tools for leadership development in the GAMA community. They are confidential spaces where leaders can get support on the most pressing issues facing their business. As Bob Savage of Savage & Associates has said,
“If I had any great ideas during the time I ran my operation, eighty-five percent of them came from my study groups. Any time you get with true leaders, the excitement in the room is so great. You leave the study group with more ideas than you can implement and a new belief in the religion of the business.”
Study groups have a phenomenal impact on their members’ personal and professional growth. Some of the benefits include:
- Professional development
- Field management support
- A personal Board of Directors
- Personal development
- Motivation and support
- Industry big picture
While Study Groups have traditionally occurred in person, once or twice a year, the GAMA Circles program utilizes technology to allow participants to get the benefits from study groups on a monthly basis. Additionally, the inclusion of facilitators and coaches will speed up the effectiveness of each group and ensure each participant receives the maximum impact of the opportunity. If you are interested in joining a GAMA Circle, you can learn more here. The program will be kicking off this summer and will include ~100 of the top producers in the industry.
Don’t miss this unique chance!
It has been a long time since I shared an update!
I’m more determined than ever to make Circles happen. It might even help stitch the fabric of the country back together. An online language teacher I worked with reminded me of the Yoda quote, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. And hate leads to suffering.” We know that ignorance and lack of familiarity can lead to fear.
What if we matched “reds” and “blues” together – not to talk about politics, but to work on and discuss common interests? Can face-to-face video bridge rural and urban when physical distance makes it impossible to be together? Would team-directed learning be an attractive option for some of the 2/3 left out of the higher education system? Can Circles help build empathy?
What we’re learning
Circles 4 -11 are running, with ten more coming behind them. Our merry band of part-timers is evolving towards being a founding team. We just spent 10 days together including two colleagues based in Barcelona and San Francisco. We’re getting a better idea of what we need to build.
We need speed. Launch to live is critical. We need to shorten the first email to first meeting interval if the business model will work.
Are the learners learning to learn? We’ve taken “The Meta Journey” and turned it into “The Learning Experience.” At its most fundamental, this is about encouraging self-directed learning, making peer groups accessible, and forwarding the “circles not rows” movement. More about all of that in an upcoming blog post. Here’s a cartoon that gives an overview of the experience.
Guides. We developed guide training and several guides have participated. We are learning a ton. The next step: a “launch guide” model in which the guide is only present for the first few meetings showing the learners how to guide each other. “I do, we do, you do.” This requires some interface work on the video meeting platform. We’ll start testing in a few weeks.
Video technology. Most of our meetings run without major issues now, but it is still not good enough. There are two dimensions to our core video technology: WebRTC vs. a native app; and using a service provider vs. building it ourselves. We continue to research possible partners and platforms.
User Interface. We’ve accumulated a backlog of features to build on the video meeting platform. Now that we have a couple more developers on the team, it will be exciting to roll these out into the current trials. Here’s a recent iteration of the new UX design we’re building upon:
The road ahead
More Test Circles. We need one more revision to all our key components: sorting/onboarding, the process, and the interfaces. Then we need to do about 10 more tests before we crystalize the plan.
Then, a jump. We started with 4 circles, now we are tracking about 15 circles, and next we’ll drive to 100+ circles. The shortest path to 100 circles is focus. And the most obvious, where the idea has already been socialized, is entrepreneurs. So that will be the theme for our first push. Can we recruit over 1,000 entrepreneurs from around the globe to pay and participate in Circles v1? The goal is for a small team to pull this off by next summer with our current technology.
Technology. We have two clear technology priorities. The first is an immersive video meeting experience, tailor-fit for this use-case. The second is onboarding quickly. We need to be able to recruit peers, match and spin up peer groups fast and at scale. We’re piecing together tools that will help us automate marketing, configuring surveys, sorting and communicating with prospective learners. After we get familiar with available tools, we’ll decide what we should build ourselves.
Team. I’ve received some lucky breaks and the team is coming together. We’ve got a small group of generalists who are figuring out how to divide the work and work together. As the strategy becomes clearer, our needs become clear. We still need a couple more core participants before we’re ready to take the next step up. But the biggest variable is that everyone, especially me, are still only working on this part time. I think our productivity will more than double if we moved to full time.
I would love to hear from you with any questions or ideas.
This is an early draft design of a learning journey, our first one. All learners will take this journey. Below is an outline of each drop, exploration topics for the first three meetings, and the ongoing drumbeat of topics intended to develop learning skill. Unlike the other journeys, we will spend 15 minutes visiting Meta at the start of every Circles session.
Imagine that each drop is injected into a particular circle’s WhatsApp discussion, every day or so. When someone responds to a question, it may or may not spur ongoing discussion. The meeting exploration process is outlined here.
This needs a ton of work. I’m looking forward to the input of the real experts advising us that have experience designing learning journeys.
A. Pre-kickoff drops (a “drop” is short content or a reflection injected into chat) B. Orientation to Learning to Learn: paper, podcast and/or movie (20 minutes) C. Kickoff Exploration: Committing D. 6 drops E. Meeting One Exploration: Visualizing Goals F. 6 drops G. Meeting Two Exploration: Beginner’s Mind H. Follow-up Drops and Meeting opener topics for all next meetings
A. Pre-kickoff drops
1. Joke. My ideal learning experience. This is what we’re trying to build:
2. What we’re interested in is “skills acquisition.” Let’s take wide definition of a skill. Being honest is a skill. Showing up for work on time is a skill. Collecting an inventory of people to delegate to (plumbers, accountants, you name it) is a skill. Creating, welding, meditating, using Evernote to track stuff – skills.
I’m not against learning facts. I agree with David Brook’s op-ed that “The cathedrals of knowledge and wisdom are based on the foundations of factual acquisition and cultural literacy.” But can’t we afford to spend less energy on teaching facts now? They are widely available. And the world is too wide and dynamic for a teacher or employer to keep up with important facts. Maybe if we can back off a little on shoving facts down the collective gullet, people will go after the facts they care about, and build lasting skill while doing it.
Another way to look at it all is “Knowledge is the capacity to act.”
Q: What is the quadratic equation (don’t cheat)? – answers sent around the circle Q2: What skills do you want to learn? – answers sent around the circle, noted by guide
3. Some messed up stuff. We have some less-than-optimal beliefs, habits, and practices about learning.
Gandhi – Live as if you were to die tomorrow; learn as if you were to live forever.
Graduating. The past tense word “educated,” stunts growth. It prevents people from paying attention to maintaining important skills. Worse, adult education has a light stigma, a tinge of the remedial, a waft of seekers and weirdos. Life-long learning sounds like retirees taking art history classes. Most people go after degrees for any reason except to learn stuff.
Q: What do you do to learn, now? How many hours out of about 600/month do you spend learning? What activities exactly are you counting as learning?
4. Some messed up stuff. We have some less-than-optimal beliefs, habits, and practices about learning.
Teaching. Minerva founder Ben Nelson did a one-week wine exploration of Argentina guided by an expert, and a similar one-week tour of Chile that he had to research and organize himself. Two years later, Ben remembers barrels about Chilean wine and only drops about Argentinian wine. We need a new word – our old expectations of a teacher are obsolete. The subject matter can now be decoupled from the teacher. People can stop waiting around for someone to shove information into their heads. We do need people to help us learn, but in very different roles than we are used to. When learners own their learning, it sticks. I like the saying “There is no teaching, only learning.” Socrates knew this, Maria Montessori knew this, and recently a whole battery of “learning scientists” have rediscovered it.
Q: Are you a good teacher? Do you wanna be? Why?
5. Some messed up stuff. We have some less-than-optimal beliefs, habits, and practices about learning.
Classes. In the 1800s, we lifted our education model from the Prussians. It efficiently marched people through material in a defined interval of time, called a class. All higher education in the US runs on this system, and usually uses units called credit-hours. Think 12-week courses, then a test. If you score 70%, you pass, get your credits, and move on. Formal corporate training generally seems to copy this idea. Why doesn’t a course end whenever a learner gets to 100%? Then there would be no gaps in their understanding of the material, and learners can move on confidently. People learn at different speeds – maybe some can finish faster? Courses need to be structured with the goal of achieving competency or mastery, not just logging the hours. This would be a huge mindset and institutional change.
6. Some messed up stuff. We have some less-than-optimal beliefs, habits, and practices about learning.
Tests. Sal Khan of Khan academy has a riff on how our test-driven schools are messed up. Tests take a snapshot and don’t measure how well you will retain the information. They randomly discriminate against those that happened not to study the subset of the subject on the test. And they punish failure, one of the best ways to learn. He’s talking about summative assessments, which measure what you learned AFTER a class. Formative assessments – little pop quizzes and teachers that use the socratic method and so forth, which help you figure out what you are missing while you are learning, and get you to interact and wrestle with the material, are helpful.
7. Some messed up stuff. We have some less-than-optimal beliefs, habits, and practices about learning.
The way we organize knowledge in school – math, science, english, etc. – is another vestigial artifact. The problem exists in corporate training as well, where, except at the level of “leadership training” we tend to organize around roles – “sales training.” Yet research by Daniel Goleman and others shows that more than two-thirds of success is related to “softer” factors. How can we work on the pieces underneath the technical skills?
B. The Framework Paper, Podcast, Movie
The main “chunk” of content in this journey (so has to be awesome) This should take 20 minutes to review We’ve posted an initial design for this
C. Kickoff Exploration: Commitment
Discussion question. Group picks one to start with. A leader prepares, opens in depth.
- Life is busy. How do you keep a commitment? What has worked and where have you failed?
- Do you help anyone else in your life keep a commitment?
- Do you make New Year’s resolutions?
- What commitment are you prepared to make to this Circle? (guide can put some examples on screen).
D. Next Drops – mostly around goals and visualization
Draft coming very soon…
8. Art of Learning: Entity vs. Incremental Excerpt (1-2) pages 9. 10. 11. 11. 13.
E. Exploration Two: Goals
- Share your most important three goals right now in vivid detail?
- How will you know if they are completed? Measure progress?
- Do you have all the skills you need to complete the goal? What skills might help?
- What are your personal goals for this Circle?
F. Next Drops – mostly around Flow
14. Quotes from Art of Learning 15. More from Art of Learning 16.Ted Talk:
G. Exploration Three – Beginner’s mind
- Describe your feelings starting Circles?
- Do you have all the help you need? What stops you from getting help?
- Are you competing with anyone in the Circle right now?
- What are three things you can work on to become a better listener?
H. Follow-up Drops and Meeting opener topics for all next meetings
Draft coming very soon…
“Are You experienced? Have you ever been experienced? Well, I have.” – Jimi Hendrix
Top EO trainer Mo Fathelbab calls “Forum” The Secret Advantage of Successful Leaders. Vistage chairman Leon Shapiro says it’s The Power of Peers. I’ve run into many coaches and leaders who, like me, consider our forum to be the most significant thing we’ve done to improve job performance. We’ve also seen how it changes the lives of hundreds of thousands of leaders and those that work with us.
Verne Harnish, Jeff Snipes, Bob Halperin, Kaley Klemp, Shirzad Chamine, Mo Fathelbab and many others have generously contributed to help create Circles because they are so passionate about forums. And they’re excited to see Circles build something that “gets everyone in the world into a forum.” (I’ve noticed that’s how they describe what we’re doing when they talk about our work to friends and colleagues.)
What Are the Differences Between What Circles is Building and a Traditional CEO Forum?
Short answer: cheaper. Longer answer: in some ways, better. Here’s a look inside how we’re reinventing the forum experience.
Circles will be less than 1/10 the $5-15,000/year it costs to participate in a CEO forum. How? First, we’re designing for scale. We replace expensive coaches with purpose-trained guides leveraged with automation. Members don’t need to volunteer and be trained to take on a year-long role as a group “moderator.” But most of all, as David Neeleman described in his strategy to create JetBlue, we aim to give customers what they want and nothing that they do not want. We are not building a network, or running events and in-person universities, or arranging special member discounts from service providers like Fedex. Many CEO’s see a forum as the biggest part of the value they get from YPO or EO, but there’s no “forum-only” plan. Plus, we’re not building a prestige club for CEOs or founders: the Circles platform will serve many types of people.
One of the first things we researched and tested was whether a circle could produce deep, engaging experiences over video. It did! It even worked in our buggy video room prototypes. Not everyone can take the better part of a day out of the office every month, plus one trip a year, like a typical forum experience. Forums over video are a lot more convenient.
But it’s true that in-person forums really are exceptional. Everyone with the time, money and proximity to a group should join one. But Circles is not just stopping at being a 10x cheaper and easier version of a forum. In some dimensions, we’re going to be better and here’s how:
Almost every forum I know of is comprised of new members that randomly walked in the door of their local chapter around the same time. With the constraint of geography removed, we can sort deliberately. We can carefully balance forums for peer level, maximum diversity, and interests. With scale, social media, and a little data science … shouldn’t we be able to exceed “random?”
While studying the ideas behind “learning to learn”, I realized there’s something not so great about my CEO forum experience: there’s little follow-up – forums identify and explore the most urgent challenges at the time of the meeting. But they lack the structured repetition required to rewire your brain. You need practice. For all that I’ve gained in my other forum with YPO, just like most classes I’ve taken or books I’ve read, I’ve lost much more because of the lack of a continued focus. Circles contains a structure to help maintain a focus on a particular topic for many weeks, and then go back to it just when the learning would otherwise fade. This structure keeps members looking out for and sharing relevant content and ideas. It allows us to curate and serve up relevant material across each circle. Shared issues of any cohort tend to be multiple-choice and not as unique as the members might expect. This insight allows us to track and help participants in a circle with the most common challenges that occur in any group.
Group chat wasn’t around when YPO started in 1950. In my life, “circles” have formed naturally on WhatsApp, Facebook and Slack. These group chats have become an amazing place to stay connected with each other, and share content, challenges, and ideas. Of course, CEO forums can and do establish their own group chats. But we are creating and intentionally fostering a group chat environment to use this tool as an important connective tissue for a circle, between meetings.
In general, our digital platform enables powerful features. One example is timers – something important to ensure “equal air time” during meetings. We can also store secure recordings that can be reviewed at 1.5x speed when you miss a meeting. We’ll track issues, challenges, goals, and follow-up. We can remove some of the friction that comes up during in-person forums: Who presented last time? What’s the agenda? When is our next meeting? We can securely preserve and make accessible important information that even close forum-mates sometimes forget (what’s his kid’s ages again?) We can also automatically analyze forum performance and intervene if necessary. We can use audio and video to help enhance the meeting experience creatively. Circles is new, so I don’t know which features will have power and which won’t, but it is going to be interesting continuing to experiment.
How Do You Explain Forum To Someone Who Hasn’t Experienced It?
It’s not easy explaining the forum experience to someone who has never tried it. This Q&A on Quora and Peer Resources’ guide are good places to start. You could also read Mo Fathelbab and Leon Shapiro’s books mentioned above. Circles is just one of many participants, along with forum-based organizations like EO and YPO, plus other groups like Lean In, Action Learning, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Aspen Global Leadership Network, AA and Benjamin Franklin’s Junto (See more examples we’ve collected here.) We’ve chosen the massively broad term “circles” to align ourselves simply with a widespread, growing movement and to embrace its many variations. A big part of our approach revolves around one sentence: “We learn better in circles than in rows.”
To sum this up: I love forum.
I want to make it 10x cheaper, 10x easier and 10x better so that it can become accessible to 1,000x the people.