Discussion About The Product and Experience

This is the space to discuss the Circles’ product and experience. Do you have feedback about the design of Circles itself (the company)? Share your thoughts over here on the thread about designing the company

As we build Circles and the company comes to life, we’re using the blog to engage with advisors. Please share your ideas and feedback right here in the comments section of this blog post about the following materials we’ve started to put together. Each of these documents is a draft and a work-in-progress.


Daniel Hoffman

Entrepreneur, Learner, Synthesizer, Designer, Connector, Ne'er-do-well


  • Learning journeys fascinate me. Sometimes I think of them as being undefinable, like they’re a combination of a million and one emotional and intellectual experiences a learner has when they’re learning something. Sometimes I think of learning journeys in very practical terms, almost like they’re a combination of a learning syllabus (a list of ideas and skills the person wants to learn) and a learning curriculum (a list of topics a teacher wants their students to learn). But the way they’re described here, and how they relate to a given Circle, it seems that it’s more of a group journey than an individual’s journey, which is intriguing. If I’m on the right track here — that individual learning journeys are deeply connected to the Circles’ learning journey — then this opens up a whole host of questions, the main one being: Will participants in a Circle commit to learning the same things?

    • Daniel Hoffman says:

      Thanks for jumping in, LBB! That is the big question. My intention is that the group will select shared journeys. Each individual will take what they take from the journey. That makes it a dynamic and relevant experience. Some may chose to dive in deeper, some may skim. The journeys change every 1-3 months. I’m hoping the groups will stay in tact for more than a year; two on average. My YPO forum is about to be 10 years old. This enables great trust to build. The topics deepen. Eventually, they may do more problem-solving than curriculum. We shall see what happens. It is important that we figure out how to monitor groups and give them a safety valve for a healthy re-sorting periodically. Jonathan made this point well – he loves playing on soccer teams, and looks forward to playing with a new team every year or so.

  • On http://circl.es/the-product-experience-design/jell/, you ask about what things make a group “jell.” You listed many practices and ideas. For instance, you listed “Shared ordeal” and “Shared identity.” I think it’s crucial that groups have members that don’t necessarily “share” characteristics. With that in mind, I think groups “jell” when they have a mix of two different kinds of people: people who are similar; people who are dissimilar. I hang out with a writers collective. We’ve held monthly literary salons for several years. In terms of publishing aspirations and political persuasions (to give just two examples), some of us are aligned, yet some of us couldn’t be more unalike. This has, in my opinion, been one of our strengths. We share similar ideas and ideals. But we’re definitely not boringly homogeneous. I wonder, will Circles seek to place dissimilar (for want of a better word) people into groups?

    • Daniel says:

      Spot on, Lee. We are going to have to figure out how do balance the commonality needed to have people feel like peers with the diversity that will fuel learning. I had a dream the other night about Palestinian and Jewish entrepreneurs in a Circle. Not a total fantasy, my friend Ami is working on diversifying Boards of his VC companies in Israel this way. I will talk to him. In your example, you are all writers. And you allude to some similar ideas and ideals … you are all in a collective, for example. So, for a slogan, how about “diverse peers with shared goals”?

    • Seth Syberg says:

      There’s a great diversity discussion and it’s effect on teams/innovation in the latest Reply All podcast (https://gimletmedia.com/episode/52-raising-the-bar/) that I think is relevant here. Skip to 20:30 to get to the juicy parts.

      • Daniel Hoffman says:

        Good. This podcast reviews some science around why “diverse teams have better outcomes.” For me, it goes right to the heart of our matching algorithm. If we can (1) have learners feel that they are with peers or better, then (2) we should optimize for diversity of everything else. The diversity should maximize learning and problem-solving benefits of the circle.

    • Diversity (different backgrounds, perspectives) increases innovation, balanced contributions (each group member speaks roughly the same amount) increase problem-solving, and jointly defined group identity (even ‘silly’ approaches such as picking a group name, theme song, etc.) provides social cohesion. Diversity can be controlled through careful matching/ sorting algorithms, but I believe the latter two are ultimately more important especially for groups that will stay together over longer periods of time.

  • Mike Blumenfeld says:

    I believe learning is all about “doing”. You can read a dozen books on how to tie your shoe laces and sit in on a dozen lectures on the same subject and still find your first attempts as awkward and difficult as someone who did not read the books or listen to the lectures. “Learning” begins when you actually try to tie your own laces. Understanding the concepts behind actions is important to learn so that people can apply their own thinking, personalities and skills to these concepts to come up with the “right” actions for them. I understood the concept of managing people from my academic studies but my learning process really started when I tried to put those concepts into practice. Trial and error are an important part of learning. I learned more about managing people in my first year of managing than I did in my 4 years at Wharton where I got my undergraduate degree and 2 years at NYU where I got my MBA.

    The beauty of your Circles concept lies in the building of trust between a group of peers who are experiencing the same issues on a daily basis and who can provide a safe and understanding environment in which to explore their inner fears and concerns and to test their ideas and priorities. Getting honest and non-threatening feedback from a group of peers who are encountering the same problems, but who may be coming up with different alternatives and conclusions, sets the stage for a strong learning experience. WIBO has used this concept successfully for 50 years. Peer groups have been around since the beginning of time with varying levels of success. Your description seems to provide a framework that makes it easier to achieve success and, more importantly, to replicate the process on a global scale.

    The most meaningful goals and objectives for such a program can, I believe, be best measured by tracking certain metrics that describe the career paths followed by the people in the program. At WIBO, we tell our participants that we never test them on what they have learned because any test would be irrelevant. The only tests that make any sense are the results that they personally produce while still in the program and after they leave it. It really doesn’t matter if they understand the concepts we present if they don’t apply them in real life. That’s really where the learning takes place and the measurements begin.

    • Thanks for the encouragement and great thoughts. Our plan is exactly that. Once the circle choses a journey to work on, they’ll get a series of actions and reflections in their chat feed. For example, if the circle is working on how to run meetings, they’ll be asked to reflect on a recent meeting, or try a new practice and share the results. Then, at the Circle video discussion, they’ll go deeper, talking about some of the deeper issues around running a meeting – being a participant vs. facilitator, conflict, controlling vs. delegating decisions, etc.

      Your point about metrics is spot-on too. Can we increase incomes? I’m betting we can.

      Thanks, Mike, I love working with you on the WIBO board and look forward to more together on Circles!

  • Andy Dillow says:

    I’ve been thinking about the circles concept a lot. I really liked it as soon as I heard it, but I wasn’t sure why. I think I’ve now figured it out. I love learning and I love groups, but I think what you’ve hit on here is much bigger than just a network of learning groups. Some of the most significant and memorable times of my life have been defined by intense learning experiences that I’ve shared with a group with a common purpose – school, rugby, college, Accenture start group, working a ski season, volunteering in Tanzania, Race Across America. Although some of these have other elements that make them intense experiences, I think the main factor that makes them so memorable is the shared learning experience and if you are able to in some way synthesise this or better still create the framework to facilitate it then it will be an incredibly powerful network and community. For me it is taking the natural appeal of things like meetups and creative mornings to get people with a shared interest together, but it will significantly advance it by empowering the groups to control how the learning is structured and shared.

    I can’t wait to try it out.

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