Hugh Weber – Founder of OTA and DudeToDad

[quote style=”boxed”]Complete commitment to concept. I can be a pain about this at the beginning of a project – demanding a clear audience, identifying a big idea, etc. I can be an even bigger pain in the midst of a project. I get such a clear picture in my mind of the person I’m working for—either as client or future customer—that it absolutely kills me to let them down.[/quote]

Hugh Weber is, simply put, a man who believes fiercely in the unlimited power of possibility. Amongst other successful efforts, this belief has led Hugh to found and launch a major creative conference in the north Midwest known as OTA. It has also helped him craft a vision for the OTA region (North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota) that involves connecting the disconnected and building a network of creatives and changemakers ready to bring their unique perspectives to the problems and challenges faced by residents of the OTA region.

After enjoying a successful career in politics, Hugh decided it was time to tackle new opportunities. This led him to the marketing industry, where his innovative ideas and insight could flourish—and hopefully benefit the greater good along the way. Hugh recognized early on that the best way for ideas to spread throughout the OTA region was to facilitate the collisions and connections necessary to develop new ideas and engage in the mindset of possibility thinking. Now his efforts are spent leading the Institute of Possibility and educating, engaging, and empowering people and businesses—both regional and national—to tell their unique stories and maximize the possibility in their life and work.

Hugh lives in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, with his beautiful, intelligent and extremely patient wife, Amy. In response to the birth of his daughter, Emerson, Hugh created, an online community that has grown to over 80,000 supporters (@DudetoDad), many of them fellow new dads searching for (and usually finding) help. Along with building a vibrant online presence, Hugh is the author of Dude to Dad: The First 9 Months, which is scheduled for a Father’s Day 2013 release. Hugh and Amy are also expecting their 2nd child in April of 2013.

Between OTA, Dude to Dad, Institute of Possibility, and some semblance of a “normal life,” Hugh is a busy guy. And he likes it that way.

What are you working on right now?

I’m working on the fourth major OTA event being held March 15, 2013. OTA is a creative collective that offers extraordinary experiences and engagements that educate, empower, and serve as catalysts for community-builders and change agents to improve the lives of all people living in South Dakota, North Dakota, and Minnesota. This is an organization that a small group of folks have built from the ground up over the past few years and is produced by my organization, Institute of Possibility.

Where did the idea for OTA come from?

I believe that the OTA region – SD, ND, MN – have the same creative and innovative talent per capita as the rest of the world. It’s just more disconnected and isolated than most urban areas. I wanted to build an organization that offered platforms online and offline for collisions and connections to connect the disconnected. OTA came from this desire and the belief that the people of these three states can do amazing things if they can identify a shared future, maximize use of resources and talent and increase visibility on the world stage.

How do you make money?

Our revenues at Institute of Possibility come from three sources: creative concepting, creative direction of marketing campaigns, and speaking/workshops for organizations.

Creative concepting allows us to partner with larger organizations by providing an outside perspective and fresh ideas. We also manage marketing and communications campaigns directly for our clients. This often involves completing research and strategy direction, recruiting a talented team of creatives, and serving as creative director through the execution of the project.

I’m also fortunate to do a large number of speaking and workshop engagements throughout the year. I find this part of my work to be the most rewarding, because it connects me with other communities filled with ideas, information and insight. These collisions fuel the rest of my work.

What does your typical day look like?

By 7:30am, I wake up to the sound of (or body assault from) my 3-year-old daughter, Emerson. My wife is out the door to teach before I wake up, so Emerson and I fly solo for the morning.

By 8:30am, I drop her off at this fantastic Montessori school called Baan Dek. One of my closest friends runs the school with his wife, so I usually spend that first hour of the day talking with him about the school or his successful app company, Montessorium, which I serve as Chief Culture Officer for. We’ll also find time for my latest big idea or a lesson from him in obscure philosophy. No kidding. This is every

By 10:00, I’m at Augustana College, where I serve as Director of Continuing Education. It’s a part-time gig with a perfect culture fit for me. I’ve been engaged to help them innovate in the distance and lifelong learning space. Just being willing to use the word “innovate” is pretty innovative in higher education.

I like to work in one meeting a day, which I do right after lunch and most often at my favorite bakery, Queen City Bakery in Sioux Falls. It’s a space that I feel naturally creative in and I often go there just to break through a creative block. That and the Brooklyn Blackout cake.

Early in the afternoon, I finally reach my desk. I like to work to the sound of television rather music. I surround myself with chaos. I’m continually interrupted by social media alerts, phone calls, reading, and random Google searches. Work gets done, but in a very unorthodox manner. Right now, I share the office with a good friend and brilliant writer. He only adds to the chaos. (By the way, he’s on winter hiatus from a walk across the country with his wife. Check him out at

From 4:30 – 8:00, I do my best to be a fully focused dad and husband. I rarely succeed. But while my daughter watches Phineas and Ferb, I join her on the couch to read blog posts. While I may not be 100% present, the cuddle time is still critical.

From 8:00 – 10:00, my wife and I watch Hulu or Netflix and catch up on terrible television. These are lost hours in the day, but are the time I miss most when I’m on the road.

At 10:00 pm, I work. In the evening I prefer to work to movies, especially low budget and poorly conceived documentaries. I can work entirely focused and am insanely productive. Everything that collided throughout the day is connected in these hours. I like to finish projects at night for clients, because they tend to respond by the time I reach my desk the next day.

Between 2-4am, I go to bed and read on my iPad mini until I fall asleep.

The only thing that ever really changes this dramatically is the occasional 30 minute power nap, which I swear by.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Complete commitment to concept. I can be a pain about this at the beginning of a project – demanding a clear audience, identifying a big idea, etc. I can be an even bigger pain in the midst of a project. I get such a clear picture in my mind of the person I’m working for—either as client or future customer—that it absolutely kills me to let them down.

In the case of OTA, I am that person that I refuse to let down. As my friends and family can confirm, I am intolerable the first half of every March. I don’t need others to point out imperfections in the event, because I feel them each deeply.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

I believe we’re seeing a trend that is a reverse pendulum swing from the brevity and superficiality of social media as we know it. It’s a trend of depth, relationships and story. It’s embodied in projects like (by OTA alumnus, Jonathan Harris).

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

I was a lifeguard on the most perfect ocean bay helping kids with disabilities learn to love the water. Sounds perfect, right?

The only problem was that I had a fundamental disagreement with the way the organization chose to discipline the kids. I stayed for a couple weeks because it was a beyond perfect job, but in the end I just couldn’t sleep at night.

I learned that there is no “almost” when it comes to finding a value and culture fit with a company or client. It’s all or nothing. Either you fit or you don’t…no amount of sunny days and incredible kids can change that.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I’d find a partner who is as passionate about the details as I am about the big picture. I knew people like that in college and early on, but always thought they’d tie me down and limit the vision. In hindsight, I think I was just being prideful.

I’ve known couples that can be described as ‘he lights the fires and she pays the insurance.’ I’d start over with someone who revels in paying the insurance.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and
recommend everyone else do?

I commit my time and energy to people, particularly young people, who are committed and passionate about what they’re doing. I’ve grown tired of the “Can I pick your brain?” lunches. I will always make time for the “Can I share this exciting project I’m working on?” meetings.

Surround yourself with intelligent, passionate people who are doing something incredibly different from you, be genuinely interested in them & their work, and amazing things will happen.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I partnered with a great human being that was just a wrong fit for me given our differences in life stage and perspective. We just couldn’t get ourselves on the same page to allow for a successful company. I regret to this day that we didn’t work things out, but ultimately the path to overcoming it was selling my portion of the company and walking away.

It is incredibly hard to walk away from your baby or something you’ve invested blood, sweat and tears in. Some people will never be able to do so and it can destroy companies and relationships.  However, the successful entrepreneurs realize there are always other opportunities ahead. Sticking with the wrong fit out of fear limits future possibilities.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Contrary to conventional wisdom, most of the nation’s political efforts are volunteer led. Most consultants won’t get involved without a hefty fee. This leaves hundreds of thousands of local and regional campaigns without any guidance. I’ve long believed that there is a fortune to be made if you could aggregate the hour or two candidates could afford across hundreds of candidates.

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?

There are too many things I would change, but I believe the poor quality and inequitable access to early education is one of the great injustices of the modern United States. I believe that our quality of life is largely determined by the age of six – and almost entirely driven by education or educational development for the individual. I’ve started working with passionate people in this space to help parents and communities 1) recognize this challenge and 2) leverage emerging tools and platforms to build solutions.

Tell us something about you that very few people know?

I ‘practice’ conversations and have since I was a kid. I used to do it in front of a mirror, but that got weird. I’m sure it started with the insecurity of childhood, but now I find it allows me to be fully in a conversation but also have thought about things before I say them. I think about people’s questions and objections in advance and arrive prepared with examples and questions of my own. Too many people rely on the belief that they need to be ‘quick on their feet’ to make it through the day. Those that actually are happen to be extremely rare.

What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?

Instagram – I’m not a professional photographer and I can understand their frustration with the amateur explosion, but I think that Instagram has opened photography to a whole new world with a few easy filters and a limited scope of utility. I love it.

Google Reader – With an explosion of tools, sometimes we forget the basics. I’m still an RSS user and find that it’s a much more useful way to explore content in a purposeful manner. I love the serendipity of social, but rely on the curated content of my Google Reader feeds.

Wikipedia – A generation of teachers and professors shudder in horror at the mere mention of its name, but I find it to be one of the great gifts of the modern web. It’s human beings, working together, to present an almost real-time depository of knowledge. I’m a fan.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Brains on Fire by Brains on Fire. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting most of the people that work at the identity firm Brains on Fire, and their book is the embodiment of their spirit, humanity, and love. Beautiful. Oh, and it will help your business immensely.

Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?

I’ll point to three OTA alumni and brilliant individuals.

@EllMcGirt – Ellen is a Senior Writer at Fast Company, but more than that, she’s a globally connected, deeply compassionate, and wildly intelligent gem of a human being.  I’m humbled to call her a friend.

@PeterSims – Sir Peter is author of Little Bets. He is also somehow connected to every major social entrepreneurship, innovation and education endeavor that currently matters. I’m a proud member of his BLKSHP.  Baaahhh!

@Draplin – Aaron cares so much about his tweets that he numbers every one. He’s a gifted and experienced designer, but more than that he’s one of the hardest working men I know.  His tweets are like a look behind the wizard’s curtain – sometimes insightful, sometimes disturbing, but always worth the time.

When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?

I’m a full body and habitual laugher, so I laugh out loud every day. The most recent laugh of note was caused by my daughter who was convinced that her book, Diary of a Worm, was actually titled, Diarrhea of a Worm.

I also found myself laughing in amazement recently while watching Chris Thile of Punch Brothers on stage. The gent makes the most complex musical efforts seem like child’s play, which made me laugh uncontrollably.

Who is your hero?

My dad. An electrician with no secondary education, he understands business, entrepreneurship, innovation and customer service on a genetic level. He is the most inventive person I’ve ever met, is deeply committed to those around him, and is genuine to his core.  I’d love to grow up to be any one of those things.

What does success look like for OTA?

So much about ‘success’ is defined by spectacle. How visible are you? How aware are people of your brand? How obnoxious can you be? I hope that we’re creating a community that collaborates to solve problems and catalyzes other projects. We will be judged by the ripples, not the splash.

What does success look like for Hugh Weber?

There’s this concept of ‘three deaths’ that I’ve thought about a great deal. The first comes with your last heartbeat. The second comes when your physical body is buried or cremated. The third comes the last time another person says your name.

I think that there’s a fourth that comes when the things you’ve done for others are forgotten. I don’t think your name has to survive for the ripples of your life to continue. Success for me means never having a fourth death.


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