We were all born into a circle. At one time in human history, our circle never extended beyond our family. The circles then extended to our tribe, and then our village. Circles then extended outward. They were drawn around common languages, common religious beliefs, and then nation states. Advances in technology have helped enable the extension of these circles. Our circles now have the capability to nearly encompass the whole earth.

It’s too much.

So, we begin to draw narrower circles that are more manageable. We apply filters that help us to find those people and things that are most interesting to us, those that will help us accomplish our need. We have the ability to include other people in the circles we have created or joined.

This process is innate. We did it in school growing up. We do it in our neighborhoods. We do it professionally.

We join or create a circle called an organization. Within that circle are many other circles. The one around your physical location. The one around your department. The one around those that you call work friends.

Advances in technology enable us to draw more circles, more often. Circles that transcend traditional boundaries. The ability to draw more creative circles has evolved with the mass adoption of phone, email, and the internet.

Social technologies have allowed us unmatched freedom to create these circles. The biggest circle now encompasses the whole planet. We know increasingly more about existing circles (communities, groups, customers, organizations, and the individuals within those circles).

It is becoming easier to build a circle around a single purpose.

There has been increasing debate and discussion about Social Business, Social CRM, Enterprise 2.0 and the definitions of each.

The truth is that the change happening around us is simply about rapidly creating circles around a need.

There is someone out there right now that is trying to do something. They need your help. Social technologies have afforded us the ability to find, listen, and engage with them. You have the ability to quickly create a circle of folks who can work together to help them solve their problem. If that person with a need is “outside of your organization”, and your circle can provide something of value in exchange for currency, we call them a customer.

If you are able to do this over and over, circles containing multiple customers are created. They can, in turn, create their own circle or circles. They can tell stories about your circle to other circles they belong to. Some might label this process Social CRM.

If the same scenario happens behind the veil of corporate walls, we label this collaboration. We call it Enterprise 2.0. The ultimate value exchange might look a little different as currency might not be exchanged. But we’ve done the same thing. We’ve created a circle of collaboration to solve a problem – a purpose. The only difference is that the focus of goal was to solve a need within our existing circle.

The dynamics of these circles aren’t new. Humans have organized in this fashion for eons.

Here’s what is new, and is rapidly changing the fabric of society and business:

  • We can now create circles with unlimited amounts of people in them
  • We know increasingly more about these circles because of the data we are collecting, and the analytical capabilities we have
  • Any conversation within one circle can be shared with an unlimited number of circles
  • Circles are increasingly dynamic – they can be drawn, erased, and/or reconfigured almost instantaneously

Could all the complexity of this world really be wrapped up in… Circles?


  1. says

    Hi Brian,

    I like the idea, it makes the notion of Social Networks a bit more precise, as there seems to be a bit more ‘purpose’ behind it (circles based on motivations, not just something amorph).

    On the other hand, circles visually seem to me to have precise boundaries. I was thinking the image of the world you show above with the clouds may be more fitting. Clouds whirl around the Earth, densify and dissipate, hover at different levels and move at different speeds, bring rain and hail, clash and bring lightning to bear, and then clear up to let the sunshine thru.

    Before we needed organisations to create and maintain these circles, at the cost of heavy investments (real-estate, salaries, means, IP). The circle walls were (and in most cases still are) very thick to ensure that the investments made could be capitalised upon. With the new means at our disposal and the ability to share with other circles, it may be interesting to look into other ways of organising to reach the same objectives, as the circle walls may actually be barriers to innovation. In you Social CRM example this would be the ‘customers’ circle and the ‘organisation’ circle barely touching one another.

    So when are you publishing your book? 😉

    • says


      At this pace, sometime around 2049. :)

      Thanks for commenting. I like the metaphor of clouds. It’s a great analogy!

      You are right, though. Circles do have precise boundaries. This is where real value is created. At some point, you’ve got to be part of a circle to really get something done. Think of an intranet. Think of the Accidental Community. Even think about facebook, or even twitter. Think about your family. There ARE a specific number of people included in each circle.

      Yes. the lines can rapidly be redrawn, but the circles and more importantly, those within each one, are measurable. The people, or companies, or other groups in each circle are tangible.

      In relation to the Social CRM example, I don’t necessarily agree. The Social CRM circle overlaps with all customer facing folks in the organization. In a Zappos type environment, this obviously covers more of the organization. In a more, shall we say, traditional organization, this circle may just overlap with just a few from the organization.

      I’ve actually drawn this out. Perhaps in another post, I’ll create and post some images. You bring up a great point.

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts.

      Talk soon,

  2. moberther says

    Brian, you make social networking and customer relationships easyer to understand. Thank you. I need to ask you to recommend an app or site that will let me maintain records of my circles. Perhaps a way to assign tags to people to make their individual habits, professions, hobies, group involvements subject to search. For example (plumber, running, millitary, habitat for humanity).

    Any suggestions.

    • says

      Glad to hear that this is helpful. Depending on the size, scope, and how many users need to collaborate, and what capabilities are important, the answer to this question can vary widely.

      Specific to tagging capabilities within CRM solutions for small businesses, check out BatchBlue, BantamLive, Nimble (currently in beta), as well as salesforce.com.

      There are probably others as well.


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