26 August 2020

Alina Siegfried: On Anna Guenther, Hard Negotiations and Collective Intelligence

Editor’s Note: storyteller and member, Alina Siegfried, is penning an occasional series interviewing members/alumni for stories on where their Collective Intelligence journey has taken them.

It was a few wines deep at the TEDx Christchurch afterparty that Anna Guenther showed me the power and cunning of her famous “bait and switch” move, thankfully to my great gain.

I had been looking to move out of government work and get into the social enterprise sector for sometime, while Anna was looking to replace herself as the Communications Wrangler for software startup Loomio which she had been helping out for the previous few months. We got chatting about the role and her desire to replace herself in it, and after my hasty follow up email to her the next morning, it was the beginning of my big break into an adventure which has taken many exciting turns in the impact entrepreneurship space.

It seems good things come out of TEDx events, as it was after seeing Anna speak at TEDxTeAro (which was later to become TEDxWellington) in 2012 that Collective Intelligence founder Ian Harvey AKA “Harv” became convinced that she needed to join the network. Having run a crowdfunding campaign myself through PledgeMe, the crowdfunding platform Anna founded in 2011, I’ve got to know her quite well over the years. Yet I learned a lot more about her after hearing about her journey into Collective Intelligence.

Initially skeptical of the network and the commitment it would take to attend three two-day meetings a year around the country, Anna’s love of group processes and Harv’s dangling carrot of a scholarship to pay for membership costs won her over.

Something that struck Anna at her first meeting, held in Wellington, was how her introduction to the group was as much about personal development as professional. Despite the diversity of the group which included people of varying ages and experiences working in farming, physiotherapy, technology and the stock market, they were able to find common ground and build trust by sharing their personal journeys.

The process of charting out my life from birth until now, identifying the high and low points, was a really cool way of letting the group get to know me.

Anna had launched PledgeMe a year before but things weren’t working out with her co-founder. With very different communication styles and value sets, Anna’s passion for social enterprise was clashing with his traditional tech startup background, and they were not seeing eye to eye about how to run and scale the business. Once it was clear that they weren’t going to be able to work together, a meeting was called to figure out who was going to take the business forward. The dates clashed with Anna’s next Collective Intelligence meeting in Nelson, but the group insisted that she call in rather than skip the meeting entirely.

It was a good move as the group was able to provide support throughout the negotiation process, encouraging her to back herself and avoid being taken advantage of. She appreciated the blunt feedback and support from some team members, particularly tech entrepreneur James McCarthy.

It was great to have that support coming from my group rather than my other advisors, as they were quite removed from the process. They were really good at pushing back and calling bullshit.

Anna left Collective Intelligence after about a year and a half due to other time commitments, but it wasn’t long before Harv talked her into returning a few years later. She joined a second group which was even more diverse than the last, featuring a doctor, a winemaker, a Kura Kaupapa residential high school teacher, a farmer and one of New Zealand’s only woman wool brokers.

The meeting process was always pretty similar, but each one varied depending on the location, which member of the group was hosting, and what topic or question they were bringing to the meeting. The meetings which Anna and other group members got the most out of were those where the host brought a big challenge for the group to deep dive into.

One member came knowing that he needed to find a way to spend more time with his family, while another member realised they needed to leave their abusive relationship. People often come with a work problem but end up looking closely at their personal lives. We approach Collective Intelligence as a work expense, but really it’s personal development.

One thing that the network does really well is to help each other out. It was clear after joining Collective Intelligence that Harv needed some help with the internal systems. Matching his blunt, honest style, Anna created a master plan entitled “Getting Harv to Use Technology” which was soon followed up with an implementation plan to get the organisation onto using a host of new platforms.

Anna is now a Collective Intelligence alumna, and looking back at her time with the group, her biggest takeaway was how much you can learn from just listening and witnessing the feedback given to other people, and realise how much you can see yourself in other people. Being one step removed from that feedback, it’s a little easier to take on board quietly as you go back to your daily life.

When I asked if she has any regrets from her time in the network, Anna says she would have left the group in a more intentional way.

I’m not very good at leaving groups – I just faded away and disappeared to stage left. I didn’t even attempt a bait and switch this time. I’m trying to work on that in myself, to do a better job of leaving things.

Alina Siegfried – August 2020

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