Abby Bischoff
By Ellen McGirt
September 4, 2017

Fortune’s Include U Challenge for September 4:

Visit a bookstore and ask another customer to pick six magazines that they think would be beneficial for you to read.

Instructor: Hugh Weber CEO and curator of the Institute of Possibility, founder OTA, researcher, network theorist, podcast creator and community organizer.

Hugh Weber is a modern-day networking phenom, and over the last eight years has been the driving force behind OTA, an evolving platform for connection, inspiration, and collaboration for makers and creators living in the most windswept, remote and often poorest parts of the “-ota” regions of Minnesota, South Dakota, and North Dakota.

To that end, OTA produced 11 large TED-style events and has brought a steady stream of bold-faced names to the region–like Ava DuVernay and Stefan Sagmeister–along with designers, writers, musicians, social entrepreneurs, and technologists from places such as Facebook and Pixar. Via OTA, which ended its live event component last November, Weber was able to invest some $2 million in people and projects that are working to transform their communities.

Now, Weber is taking the lessons learned from OTA into communities of all kinds, as part of what he calls ‘the Potluck Strategy.’ “Community building requires empathetic and active listening,” he says. “This work is really about making creative collisions happen—those chance meetings and serendipitous encounters that can completely change someone’s trajectory.”

Social entrepreneurship is a second act for Weber, who had been a political operative of some sort since age 8, first as a volunteer for a local school board race, later as the State Vice Chair of the Teen Aged Republicans. Through most of the 2000s, he managed a wide range of campaigns—governor, U.S. House, Sioux Falls mayor—and earned hands-on experience connecting people by training more than half a million activists in person and on mobile.

Weber was in the process of reinventing himself when he got the idea for this challenge. “When I made the decision to leave politics in 2004 or 2005, I realized what a bubble I was in occupationally and personally,” says Weber. “I decided to do what I now call my ‘pick six,’ and I’ve done it pretty much every month for the last thirteen years.”

Yes, Weber literally walks up to a stranger and asks them to open his mind. “I was coming out of such a homogeneous world, and I realized that everyone I knew probably read the same three magazines and visited the same two websites,” he says, admitting he’d never pick up a craft beer magazine, literary journal, or even Cat Fancy. “It’s good to be invited into other people’s bubbles.”

Weber’s work was featured in a full-length feature in 2017 called “The Potluck Society: An OTA Journey.”

Listen to his The Potluck Society, a public radio podcast that highlights the work of ordinary people who are building extraordinary communities. Along with Rod Arnold, the former COO of charity:water, he is also the co-creator of the Leading Good podcast, an interview series with social entrepreneurs and other creative business leaders.

Explore his philosophy of curiousity, creativity and conversation in his TEDx talk, Designing a Possibility Fueled World.

Today, Weber asks you to give someone else the power to open your mind to other information. “Go to a bookstore or store with a magazine rack and ask an interesting looking stranger to pick out six magazines that they think you would benefit from reading,” he says. “If six sounds like too much, then just ask for three.”

Post your thoughts on today’s challenge on Twitter with #IncludeU30

Looking for all the challenges? Start here.

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