Rochester Global Entrepreneurship Week Keynote Speaker Encourages Community to "Be Weird"

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Rochester Global Entrepreneurship Week keynote speaker Scott Meyer shared two disruptive ideas with the entrepreneurial community to kick off this weeklong celebration of innovation: embrace your inner weirdness and make your own permission.

Meyer played a pivotal role as a community builder and activist in Brookings, South Dakota. He helped to launch TEDxBrookings, 1 Million Cups Brookings, and Creativity Week; Meyer also served on the Brookings City Council. He was awarded The South Dakota Spirit of Entrepreneurship, Top 40 Under 40 by Prairie Business Journal, and Young Entrepreneur of the Year in South Dakota.

Meyer spent years building up the innovation community in Brookings, a town of ~24,000 people. Throughout this time, he garnered his fair share of both successes and failures. But one thing has remained constant.

“The weirdness of this world really makes me feel excited,” Meyer explained.

With the pervasiveness and accessibility of the digital world today, power has shifted from suppliers to those who are aggregating products, services, events, and knowledge into one place, Meyer said. This change has made it easier than ever before to locate niche products or connect to people with very specific interests.

Today’s world, Meyer said, allows us to be exactly ourselves. “But are we willing to take that risk?” he asked.

To be our true, vibrant selves- both as individuals and as communities- Meyer said you need to exist on the edge to attract attention in today’s crowded society. You need to be weird.

“You don’t want to be the next anything. You need to be the first something,” he affirmed. “This is the benefit of being weird. People can actually find you. If you’re in the middle of something, you’re impossible to find.”

When we as a government, community, or business have some sort of platform, no matter how small, Meyer said we need to push people out into that spotlight to share big, wild ideas and create momentum within our communities.

He helped to launched TEDxBrookings, a local version of TED Talks to spread big ideas, to get all kinds of “weird” people in that city into the same room, showcase the local culture, and produce palpable energy in the community.

By creating this stage of TEDxBrookings, Meyer could elevate others into positions of power, placing them as local thought leaders and empowering them to go out and do bigger things.

1 Million Cups Brookings was later launched to create this platform on a more frequent basis in the city.

Meyer’s second lesson: you don’t need to ask permission to create something in your community. You don’t need to be an expert at something. If you want to do something or create something, just do it. Don’t wait for anybody else to do it for you or to authorize it.

“We don’t have to take permission. We can just make permission,” he explained.

To build momentum in their own community, Brookings simply proclaimed themselves the “Creative Capital of the North”. They didn’t ask anybody if they were indeed the most imaginative or original culture of people. There was nobody to ask; they just said that was the truth. The community took $200 and built a “Before I Die” wall so people could express their life long dreams. They launched Creativity Week to celebrate creatives in the city.

“Find a parade and just start marching in front of it,” Meyer said, and people will just start falling in line.

In the case of Brookings, that’s exactly what happened. Soon, folks were journeying to the city to learn about building community from these self-proclaimed experts.

Regardless of how the momentum began, Meyer said it got people excited enough to start taking risks and things just started to happen organically.

“But I’m here to tell you that we can make permission for ourselves,” he concluded. “If we have permission, we need to build the stage and push people into it. And the people that will shine in that spotlight are the weirdos.”