We had a dream, it’s continuously evolving, and we’ve started to build it, together.
Last week I joined a bunch of strangers and couple of fellow participants and system-changers from The School of System Change, for the second chapter of IO Collective. (The first IO meeting was held last year in Greece — these are two accounts of what happened in chapter one, here and here)
Here we are in our IO Collective 2017 school photo (complete with subtle dental hygiene message.)
What is IO Collective?
Wondering what IO Collective is all about?
The IO Collective is an entrepreneurial experiment designed to re-imagine how we live and work together in an increasingly complex, interconnected and ever-changing world.
We are a small and growing community — an imaginal organisation (IO) — part of a rising network of networks coalescing around the world — putting into action new principles and new ways of collaborating to create the world we dream of.
It is non-hierarchical and self-organising with a diverse range of creative and entrepreneurial members who support one another, develop ideas, projects and ventures together and launch purpose-driven movements, organisations and products.
This was pretty much what I knew before I went. Sounds good right?! Even so — I didn’t know what I was letting myself in for, when I received my invite I thought it sounded fun, perhaps I’ll meet some new people. I’m starting life as a freelancer and didn’t have anything else to do that week, so I thought ‘Why not?’…
Since then a week has passed and it’s hard to imagine where I would be, what I’d be thinking about and what I’d be doing if I hadn’t gone. It surpassed any expectations beyond my imagination. (Crazy how just one week, which I almost chose not to take part in, ended up holding so much significance.)
My IO reality
The reality of IO Collective chapter 2 was 14 change-makers coming together to connect, play, learn and co-create ways of supporting one another on our personal and collective journeys. Our aim, to explore and find purposeful, joyful, integrated ways of working, living and being, together, in order to co-create the powerful transformation that we dream of for a better world.
Here is my account of what happened, plus some learnings, insights, and reflections along the way. A perfect blend of the 5 W’s — the who, where, when, why, what (and how), magically enabled us to begin to co-create the world we dare to dream:
I am still slightly surprised at how the mix of people who came seemed so perfect. Our thoughts, values, mindsets were so aligned and in sync with each other while simultaneously our diverse backgrounds created an eclectic mix to cross pollinate ideas.
This is a testament to Dan and Luke who set out an invitation with just the right amount of openness, ambiguity, inspiration and support. An offer to be part of something, to create something together, to shape and define how IO could function — sharing ownership and co-creation.
I loved that no matter how long people joined the retreat for, be it one, two or five days, they became part of the IO family. Everyone brought something different to the group dynamic, and a visit from Pasco’s parents mid week injected something special too; new perspectives and a splash in the River Severn with some wild swimming.
We used the principles of ‘Open Space’ throughout the week, one of which — ‘Whoever comes are the right people’ — felt highly appropriate for the week.
The ASHA centre is the place we called home for 4 nights. A beautiful location, even more impressive on a sunny day; complete with vegetables growing, woods, and a hobbit hut to explore. Tucked away in a valley near Gloucester, it sits amidst the green, reminding us of regenerative strength of nature and the living system we live in.
The ASHA Centre in full bloom
Why and when?
More than ever, we are living on the edge of uncertainty, we are waking up to realise that if we continue on our current trajectory life might not continue. The uncertainty makes us come alive, it gives us a momentum to move away from an ‘industrial growth society’, towards a ‘life sustaining society’.
We’ve seen era changes before; the agricultural and industrial eras emerged over centuries; this time we have to make the transition faster if we are to sustain life, let alone flourish. We are lucky to be living in this time where we can make a difference.
IO Collective 2017, the ASHA chapter, captures this momentum, determined to drive this new era forward; exploring how we can exist and work together as a collective to co-create this world that we are dreaming of, for the greater good and future of our planet, together.
Alongside this, we discussed something that I feel is an equally important part of what IO is trying to do. This is as much about our personal journeys and evolution, as the path of the collective whole. If we become our best selves, in head, heart and hands, we will grow to be more powerful in this transformation.
In the film, Joanna Macy also speaks of three fundamental dimensions we must harness to create this transition:
- Activism: Actions to slow the damage to Earth and its beings
- Sustainable structures: Understanding the dynamics of our current system and creating alternatives that hold the seeds for the future
- A shift in our consciousness: Changing the perception of our reality through values that allow new systems and structures to last
Are these dimensions IO can harness?
What and how?
We co-created and got stuck…
This week was all about co-creation. We used Open Space to devise our structure and sessions. People brought workshop ideas, personal and professional challenges, discussion topics, sessions to experiment with.
Being a small group of very aligned people, everyone wanted to be part of everything. It started to become more of fixed agenda we wanted to adhere to, which lead to sticking points and tensions as we tried to change the schedule so everyone was happy on a daily, sometimes twice or thrice daily basis.
When everyone wanted to say something, making decisions was slow when trying to make them in a democratic way. There were endless alternative ideas to find the best way forward.
: Were we striving for perfection, when sometimes we should just have gone ahead?
: Were we not communicating in the right ways, and does that come with spending more time together?
… but being open and adaptable got us through
Creating a schedule was an important piece of the puzzle too — it provided us with a basis to work and learn from. The week was about co-creation and it was important to be flexible and open to change, adapt to what the group needed and wanted, to what emerged on the day. What was originally planned didn’t always feel like the right thing for the energy or as a follow on from the previous session.
For me the question is ‘How could we move on from the sticking points and tension more quickly?’ Not necessarily ‘How could we have stuck to schedule or created a different agenda that would have worked first time?’
I find tension uncomfortable at the best of times, and sometimes took a step back to observe the dynamics. I think people end up debating in a tense way but fundamentally agree. I was left thinking:
: How can we move on from these moments more quickly?
: Could we designate decision makers, different people for different days?
: Could someone be responsible for saying ‘stop and take a moment’s pause’ rather than reacting to each comment?
: Could someone be responsible for actively observe and notice the similarities and differences?
We were in tune
…with each other and our surroundings. We connected, we felt, we listened and heard. The success of the week and continued momentum over the past few days of IO Collective has been grounded in the culture we built around openness, staying free from judgement, and above all forging real connections, something felt by us all. We took the time and space to really listen and be present with each other. Two activities were at the heart of this, taking us to deeper levels of understanding:
Finding harmony and getting in sync.
Sergio brought us together in a midnight throng of humming in harmony, to connect with ourselves and each other, to start to feel how we work together to create the world we are dreaming of.
To warm up our voices we breathed, we hissed, we howled, we hummed. Then we put on blindfolds as we took to the floor and explored the room, humming all the while. Our sense of hearing heightened as we moved around, listening to one another and following the sounds and spaces we were drawn to, be it another voice or an area of quiet. (I was surprised how easy you could sense walls or windows as I got close to them.)
It was a beautiful thing to both simultaneously create and listen to the ebbs and flows of noise, as new phases of our soundscape and conversations in sound seemed emerged. I felt connected, meditative, present and in the moment, more present and in-tune with the group. There seemed to be a collective awareness as together we responded to each other as we created our own organic dynamics.
There were quieter moments of calm, as if we were reflecting, waiting, listening for the seeds of sounds that might gain momentum and a new phase start to emerge. You could hear as leadership moved round the group, different people played different roles, taking it in turns to bring a new dynamic in, or to completely disrupt with a completely new noise changing the ambience and often leading to bursts of joy and laughter.
A system of parts and people in sync and in harmony — a metaphor for how our world and its societies should be.
Deepening our connections through eye contact and empathy
The powerful circling workshop, really deepened our connections to one another. Peter Skead lead us through a taster of this practice that offer a a way of relating, being present in the moment, and in our connections with each other. It was a pivotal point of the week, forging deeper connections with one another. An exercise in deep empathy and expression, using eye contact to see and feel the other person.
I am so grateful to these souls who let me in. I won’t name names, but you know who you are:
- You were holding barriers, fear and exhaustion, but your strength, determination, grit, and hope shone through
- You are endless love and hope of the purest kind
- You are a bundle of excitement, contentment, warmth, inquisitivity
- You embody wisdom and knowing in your gaze, you are appreciative, grateful, A rock carrying others, strength, boundless energy and love with an open heart
- You are searching for meaning and understanding, facing up to contradictions; self belief vs self questioning and self fear, happiness vs. sadness, need for closeness vs need for space. You are endless depths.
- You are inquisitive, open, kind, determined and focused, but in between and searching — to settle or to explore, finding balance, chasing dreams
A little thing I have taken away is the true power of eye contact, something I sometimes know I avoid. Since this I have purposefully made better eye contact with those I am with, and already feel a difference in being able to understand their perspectives better.
We were honoured to have Jess’s dulcet tones to sooth us into the evenings as we sang Bill Withers, Jose Gonzales, and Jess Walker originals. A beautiful voice, a beautiful soul, with words and melodies to match.
Outside moments of tranquility
We created a safe space
We created space to be challenged and challenging, to be inspired, to be vulnerable, open. Or to just be, if that’s what was needed. While the location in nature, and utterly beautiful weather provided the perfect backdrop, the unsaid, unwritten principles that lay in our foundations, lack of judgement, openness and kindness that flowed through the group. It is so important that this should not be taken for granted. It was a place to be vulnerable and bring our whole selves, with out fear of judgement, cynicism or rejection.
One of the most powerful things to observe was how the safe space we created allowed one member of IO ASHA to undergo a transformation in just 5 days. It was an honour to be part of her journey to re-discover her true self after she’s spent so long feeling it was lost.
We nourished ourselves
As well as mentally stimulating our minds, caring for our new friendships and emotions, food was a cornerstone of our small community and bringing people together. We cooked and we ate until we could eat no more.
Everyone chipped in at every stage, from buying ingredients, suggesting scrumptious veggie and vegan recipes, to chopping, stirring, frying, baking, tasting, to clearing, washing, drying, breaking glasses (that one was mainly me) and putting everything back in it’s rightful place. Every meal was a truly team building activity. It promoted care, nurture, and provided the energy and environment for us to co-create.
We played, we learnt, we laughed
Having fun, doesn’t mean you’re not learning or working. Play is part of nature, part of growing up, we learn from play, so naturally we brought it into IO Collective Chapter 2 whenever we could:
The one and only Marcus lead The Money Game — A powerful game that starts to reveal your own relationship to money — What it means to take, what it means to give, what it means to receive.
I discovered how cautious I was around money; I couldn’t take it, I could only give to those who had very little, I couldn’t accept without good reason or above the amount I’d gone in with, I couldn’t ask for it.
I found the game was a fascinating metaphor and mirror of real life and the economy and what Joanna Macy calls the ‘industrial growth society’
My observations about our behaviours — we made little or no eye contact as a group during the exchanges — the focus was purely on the money as we made impersonal transactions across the table. It was quick, we reacted, behaved without much thought, responding to the aim of the round, rather than each other or a common goal. When I did make eye contact, it felt different, I felt the significance of an offering, gratitude, or guilt.
It left me contemplating and questioning:
: Is our cashless society, and digital transactions making our relationship to money even less personal, more faceless?
: How currently we need money to sustain our lives as we know; we have learnt that money improves our quality of life; in the short term?
: How do we change to understand a long term view that might change our relationships with money and the economy?
: Must we understand our own personal relationship with money to understand our relationship to the industrial growth mindset?
: Do we need to shift our own relationships with it to be able to transform to a life sustaining mindset and society?
Nothing like teamwork and endorphins to set you up for envisioning and manifesting your dreams.
Who will be the last ninja standing? A game requiring speed, agility, strategic thinking, cunning moves. Will you be quick enough to move your arms out of the way of your fellow ninjas’ slaps?
Yes, the classic childhood game, (you’re never too old for sardines) I lost, but really I won. The real losers had to spend the best part of 30 minutes sweating in the attic above the boiler!
I’ve just lost the game — If you’re reading this and you know the game — you just lost the game.
We took a step outside, to appreciate new surroundings. We woke before the crack of dawn to watch sunrise a top a hill. We just missed the moment it reared it’s head at 4.42am, but we caught the solstice at 5.24 am (which I learnt is when the sun is at it’s most northerly point in the sky.)
We went wild swimming, refreshing, resetting, connecting to nature and the living system we are part of.
These guys became bull masters, chasing them away, while I cowered in the trees.
The bull whisperers
Throughout the week we were continuously questioning… what is the purpose of IO Collective? Why do we exist? What did we come here to do? What will this become? How will we continue forward and how will we continue to build on this week to work towards the transformation we dream for the world?
Some activities and sessions were based around questions and seeking, exploring deeper, more meaningful answers:
We went through the self-reflective process of U-Journaling, from the Presencing Institute. It is a powerful exercise that involves answering a set of questions that helped us to access deeper levels of self-knowledge, and to connect this knowledge to concrete actions.
Meanwhile, some people brought projects with problems to co-solve and questions to find answers to: What should recruitment to Dignity Platform look and feel like? Marcus leant his graphic recording skills to capture the conversation.
Our inquisitive and questioning nature only led us to more questions. As we made progress and the meaning of IO Collective started to take form; the why, the what, and the how… we began to understand the next things that needed to be asked to continue to evolve and develop IO Collective. Here are a few that feel most significant in this moment. (I would be interested to hear the questions that continue to burn for others here too.)
: Should we gate-keep the IO community?
: How do we maintain an open culture and remain inclusive, while holding to our vision, goals and value? — How do we ensure the heart of IO Collective is not diluted as the community grows?
: How can the culture of empathy and togetherness transcend digital landscape?
: How can we establish a tool or practice to use the IO network to find meaningful work, the right people for projects, and to share challenges to overcome them better together?
: Do we have the right to influence people in working towards this transformation? Should we involve everyone that the transformation effects, and how could we do this democratically while staying focused?
The new beginning
As the final hours of the last day drew close, I found myself feeling sad at the prospect of leaving. Until an unfortunate rope swing accident left Rachel with a broken wrist, leaving no time to reflect — just intuitive adrenaline, shock, action, love and support.
These ill-fated last moments brought us even closer together, making me understand in more depth the strength, trust and kindness that fills the space between us. This surreal week with IO Collective felt like a rare thing to be cherished and nurtured. An incredibly strong foundation has been set to continue to grow from; to explore how our community can flourish and play a part in making a positive, meaningful difference, to co-create the world that we dream of. This is just the beginning of that transformation.
Other reflections from the other IO 2017 members here:
Dan Cunningham talks about his top 12 ingredients for co-creation
I’m always keen for conversation, if you want to get in touch about IO Collective, system change or any other ramblings of mine you might have read, you can reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.