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Singularity University’s Concentric Circle Educational Delivery Model

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
27th February 2012

If you want to know the future of an institution, look at those starting today.

Excerpted from Nilofer Merchant:

“A mark of a good university was to have hired leading-edge researchers into full-time tenured faculty roles, in big buildings. Impressive facilities were a way of showing off the power of your wealthy alumni.

Singularity University flips the concept around. “Rather than a locked down curriculum, full time faculty, and buildings, we organized for latest thinking, no built-in overhead, and flexibility in design,” says Salim Ismail, Singularity’s founding Executive Director. With that design in mind, Singularity delivers 300 hours of lectures with only seven full-time staff.

The seven full time employees form a nucleus, or core group to handle program management, operations, and communications. They also recruit the next rung of talent, a set of 10 thought leaders, one for each domain area in which SU teaches. These experts are highly briefed on the purpose and goals of the SU organization. These leaders then act as curators for the rest of the organization, assembling 10-20 domain specialists each, from around the world. Virtual work teams form as needed to coordinate curriculum intersection points using Skype and other online tools. While the core maintains the mission and continuity, the curators act as talent recruiters for the next layer: the extended outer circle of specialized talent that adds topical expertise and content delivery. The talent ratio is 5% core, 15% curators, and 85% specialists. As the definition of and market for the latest thinking evolves, SU is in a unique position to fluidly respond.

Instead of organizing in a hierarchical way that focuses on “getting the right people on the bus,” this model is about building concentric circles of talent that flow and resize as needed.

A construct of circles rather than hierarchies allows an organization to tap into the so-called “freelance nation,” the global talent pool of the creative class. In 2005, one third if the US workforce participated in this freelance economy, and some measures suggest it could be as high as 50% today, accelerated by the recession.”


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