Circle and spiral learning

Circle and spiral learners

Over the years I have encountered two very distinct types of people to work with. Taking the roles of leaders or team members, circle and spiral learning individuals are easy to spot after their flexibility in empowering teammates. They are the ones following the “produce or perish” credo, or focusing more on developing and understanding individual behavior.

Circle learners – between specialists and autocrats

I named the first type circle learners because their knowledge can be imagined as being built in circular shape. People in this category have tried again and again to be good in one activity and have finally succeeded. Their knowledge is based solely on trial and error, and they take pride in knowing every twist and turn there might be.

Growing happens concentric, they try harder and harder, and there they are, having added another inch in the diameter of their circle. These people are, in a certain way, the specialists. A negative aspect could be their lack of flexibility. How many times have you encountered a person saying “You are now responsible for achieving these results”, while through his/ her actions the meaning behind the apparently empowering sentence was “You are responsible for achieving these results doing things my way/ without making me look less prepared in front of the others/ without challenging my points of view etc.”?


Several times, I have found these people forgetting that they got to this level by making mistakes again and again, and finally succeeding. This routine has somehow rugged their attitude towards newcomers and they show no remorse when a mistake is spotted.

The pros and cons

Circle learners are agile workers. They care less about the team feeling and more about getting the job done. They will have no problem in getting read of less performing members and taking a large amount of the job on themselves. But again, the job will be done regardless of the team feelings, working hours and especially what lies in a different stage than the working one. Sometimes I found these people not accepting stronger personalities as team members and rarely taking the risks of innovation.

Concerning the job they are required to do, this category has limitations. Seldom have I encountered circle learners that are willing to step in the uncomfortable knowing they might fail or show a vulnerable side. Often they will stick to what life has thought them and, sometimes, their concentric growth will fall behind the booming of today’s trends.

The spiral learners – between easy going and inspirational

Here are the people that strive to find the right combination between learning and practicing. They are aware of the resources at hand and are constantly looking to widen their information. I find this category showing more flexibility than the previous one because mistakes are bound to happen more often when innovation and questioning play an important part in the scheme of things.

Their learning can be imagined as a spiral, continuously expanding. At the beginning, the spiral is small and changes in its shape are hard to be unnoticed. When the spiral takes a considerable size, changes are less evident, although they happen and their momentum is considerably stronger than at the beginning.


As opposed to the circle learners, spiral learners are more interested in the outcome of the journey. Their version of endowing responsibility might sound exactly like the one uttered by circle learners “you are responsible for achieving these results”, but the meaning behind it is completely different. If in the previous category the small print read “without doing this or this…, or this, or making me feel this way or that…”, spiral learners are aware that they might enrich their experience by letting others grow their own spiral. They will show shimmering enthusiasm when something is solved in an unusual way, being glad they had the opportunity of taking part in its creation.

The pros and cons

Of course, one might say that these are really slow people, that they put the growth of others in front of their objectives and this, in comparison with the way circle learners are getting things done, might somehow be true. Although nothing a little bit of fine tuning couldn’t make the gap seamless.

I have found that acting as a spiral learner allows one to take projects that are considerably bigger and, at the beginning, might even look overwhelming.

Being aware of this and of the fact that information nowadays is practically accessible in its wholeness, spiral learners need not panic. They will just take a deep breath and dive in the awaiting pool of knowledge and experience, enriching themselves and others.


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