What is an IO?
An IO is a collaboration tool designed for groups, networks and communities who want to shift from talking and meeting, towards meaningful real world action.
It’s a imaginary organisational structure that makes it easier for lots of small organisations, agencies, consultants, solo-entrepreneurs and freelancers to share resources / networks and work together as one team, without losing their personal freedom and autonomy. Here’s how it works…
- The Imaginal Core. Assemble a diverse and talented group of people around a shared vision and purpose.
- The Collaborative Shell. Map out all of the skills, assets and ventures that are within the group.
- Real World Action. Start building and testing real world solutions, using the three IO principles of autonomy, transparency and fairness to guide the group through the inevitable ambiguity, struggles and tensions that come with collaboration and partnership.
The IO framework is the culmination of many years of research and experimentation in the fields of community building and startup acceleration. It might seem simple, but it really works. It’s a great tool to use when launching and growing new movements, projects or ventures. You start with defining the imaginal core and then you build out your collaborative shell, which enables a self-organising flash team to emerge.
The story behind the name…
IO stands for ‘Imaginal Organisation’. The name is based on the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly. Biologists have shown that this transformation is triggered by an emergent network of self-organising imaginal cells, which is a fantastic metaphor for the core purpose of the IO, which is to catalyse and contribute to a global transformation in how we live, work and learn together. It is time to shift away from an economic model that is driven by consumption, separation and fear, and create a new reality that leads us towards a more regenerative and inspiring future.
At the heart of the IO is the belief that we can achieve more through collaboration than through competition. Everything else is built on this foundation. IO’s are effectively flash teams that self-organise around a specific vision or purpose in order to launch collective projects and ventures.
It’s designed to be as simple and flexible as possible, without losing the essential components that are required for a culture of genuine trust and friendship to emerge.
Diving deeper in the three core IO Principles…
Autonomy. Everyone has their own ship.
An IO doesn’t have a bank account, it doesn’t hold any assets and it doesn’t pay any salaries. All organisational functions are distributed across a variety of businesses and NGOs that are either individually or collectively owned bythe IO members. When we all have our own ship there is no reason to fight over the steering wheel. We just sail together, sharing the risks and the rewards along the way. We lead through action. There is no central organisation to own or fight over. There is no boss or hierarchy. If you want something to happen just get started. Do your research into what is already out there. Hone your presentations and communications. Prototype and validate your idea with users / customers. Ask for as much feedback as possible. And mostly importantly, be mindful of not crashing into other ships.
Transparency. Open by default.
Within an IO there is no concept of ownership over ideas or networks. The free flowing exchange of ideas and intellectual property is the lifeblood of an IO. We don’t want the fear of having your ideas stolen or being sued to get in the way of that flow. We embrace a culture of creative commons and reciprocity. Where possible we try to open-source our experiences, stories and resources. The more we give, the faster we can all grow together, and ultimately the more we will receive. It is also important to acknowledge the shift in dynamics when funding or investment for a project or venture in the collaborative shell. Consistently having honest conversations as tensions arise are essential.
Fairness. Leave your ego at the door.
Ultimately in all collaborative startup situations there will be ambiguity, uncertainty and tension. We don’t want to create a monoculture where everyone agrees and thinks the same way. We want diversity. However, we also need to enforce a commitment towards fairness, transparency and conscious communication. When conflicts arise we need to confront and learn from it. If we ignore these signals they will quickly become toxic and destroy the culture of trust and friendship that is so fundamental to the success of an IO. When it comes to financial and ownership issues, it’s best to clear out any ambiguity and talk through the scenarios and options before the money comes in. We must all strive to leave our egos at the door.
These principles make it easier for collaborations to go beyond a single conversation or hackathon.
They make it easier for lots of small organisations, agencies, consultants, solo-entrepreneurs and freelancers to share resources / networks and work together as one team, without losing their personal freedom and autonomy. When we notice tensions and anxieties that inevitably arise when collaborating in a new team or community, we just turn to these three guiding principles and talk it out until we have removed the ambiguity and re-established alignment.
Summary. Doing collaboration better.
The IO is a framework that helps us to manage the ambiguity and unpredictability of startup life. No one can know for certain what will happen in the future. It also takes time to really build a deep relationships and partnerships within a newly formed flash team / imaginal cell. With a shared purpose and these three IO principles to guide us through the stormy waters, we can trust that tensions will be resolved and the ultimate outcome will be a Win / Win for everyone. With the IO we don’t need management hierarchies. We don’t need contracts and complicated governance structures. We can just get to work and make amazing things happen together. It’s that simple.
So that’s it. The IO has been defined. Now, the purpose of the IO Collective is to see how far we can push and stretch this model.
How do we start?
Let’s remind ourselves that the IO is a means (HOW), not a end (WHY & WHAT). To understand it’s power you need to experience it in action, and really see and feel it’s impact. When things get tough reminding yourself of the purpose and the people around you will lift you up. When tensions arise, returning to the IO principles of autonomy, transparency and fairness is a great way to navigate the stormy seas of startup life and continue to grow individually and collectively.
So finally, I’m defining the purpose of the IO Collective.
To promote and prototype as many different IOs as possible.
We see ourselves as an invisible movement. Our purpose is just to plant seeds, launch experiments and then learn from what happens next. Our goal is to be curators, catalysts and connectors. We resist all forms of ownership, exclusivity and control. The IO is ultimately just a starting point, from which we can explore the world in collaboration rather than competition.
As a collective we focus on hosting great events and retreats to promote the IO framework in a way that is experiential and not just theoretical. We also then commit to following up by sharing relevant stories and learnings.