• dan

Circles for Growing Businesses

Updated: Dec 17, 2018

In May, Circles advisor Verne Harnish invited me to speak at The ScaleUp Summit he hosted with Fortune in Atlanta. At the time, we were in the middle of alpha testing. No logo. No branding. Minimal messaging. We were deep in that rugby ruck I wrote about in February. But I accepted Verne’s invitation as a chance to begin the work on how we explain Circles to this audience.

I used to be this audience. Verne leads a community of mid-size companies trying to grow fast. He founded Entrepreneurs' Organization before moving on to create Gazelles and founding several other businesses. I traveled with my management team to Verne’s events to get inspired by new ideas, and then hole up in a suite and work on our own business. In this case, General Stan McChrystal followed me and Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst followed him, all on the theme of new ways to design an organization.

What would resonate with this crowd? Here are a few points I tried. I’d love to hear your reaction. Are they compelling? What are we missing? How can we improve these hooks? If you are a connoisseur of improvisation or bad hair in action, watch the full 5-minute presentation here. Mercifully, Verne threw out my prepared presentation when I arrived. Your company will grow as fast as your people grow. This crowd of leaders believes this. According to Verne’s collaborator Sherry Coutu’s Scale-up report, talent is the #1-factor constraining growth. I think that makes this crowd a good target customer for us.

But most modern training fails. It is a chore with unclear ROI. It can’t keep up in a world where skills change quickly. This is the pain that we’re trying to tap into. It is hard to develop people. Somehow the fast-growing companies have even less time and money for training than established companies. Most managers are insecure about their track record developing people. Does this scene from The Karate Kid make the point about training being a chore?

We need learners. Laszlo Bock said it about Google. I get agreement when I say this. And there’s a lot of bigco stuff about “learning agility.” Is hiring a learner the wish for more wishes? Or is this BS? Does this Star Wars: The Force Awakens scene make the point that you need a Jedi vs. a Stormtrooper?

Try this at home. Circles are everywhere, proliferating. They are a good idea. Most of this crowd has experience with a forum personally - but they don’t have anything similar for their workforce. Circles is sharing everything we learn publically, to encourage and participate in this movement in education in general.

We need better tools. But most of the tools we have available - training rooms, trainers, learning management systems, online courses - are teaching or content-driven. We need tools that are learner driven that build learners into better and better self-directed learners. This clip from The Blues Brothers is intended to make the point that the old model doesn’t fit anymore.

We learn better in circles than in rows. We’re building a platform to make circles really easy to put together and foster. This slogan has become a go-to messaging line. What do you think?

At the end, I called for volunteers for our beta. I think I could have done a lot better. I swallowed many points. My ask was not very clear. And we didn’t reinforce the talk with a booth or any kind of follow-on. Sadly, I had to leave the conference immediately after. But, still, thirty-five people responded to the invitation. We’re hoping to kick-off some Scale-up test circles this summer.

Again, we’d love any feedback on this messaging. This is a work-in-progress.

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