We’ve launched….in beta

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” ? Rainer Maria Rilke

Six months ago, you could never have told me that I would be working with someone to launch a business. Dan had long wanted to do something that integrated opportunities for thoughtful discussions, exploring ideas and spaces in a different way, and good conversations over food and drink. He was looking for a collaborator and, four months into my parental leave, I clearly had lots of spare time. It was a perfect learning opportunity, and I jumped at it.

Our goal has been to create a new, engaging, approach to exploring complex, current, and meaningful issues. Our journey to launch has mirrored these principles. I can’t remember when I have enjoyed a project this much (or been this tired), and we want to share our learning with people in the same way we hope our participants enjoy Ottawa (de)tours.

It took a lot of time, and walks in the cold, to articulate what we wanted to do, and to differentiate it from the more traditional format of walking tours with which many people are familiar. We are building experiential walking tour experiences unlike any other. Our walks are designed to encourage participants to inquire and reflect, and see things through different lenses, which can spark ideas that inspire them to take action. We discussed and debated our way through coffee shops in several neighbourhoods, and finally accepted (again) that we would strive for excellence, not perfection. We know of initiatives that combine parts of what we want to do, but not in the same way. Without precedents, we decided that we would launch, and learn, adjust, and learn some more, and with all the risks and joys of doing so “live”, and in public.

In the spirit of my favourite Rainer Maria Rilke quote (above), some of the questions we have been working through, and will use to assess our success, include:

  • How to encourage thoughtful – yet enjoyable – discussions on “big topics”?
  • How to create a culture of “beginner’s mind” and explore issues in new ways?
  • Using Ottawa as our lab, how can we create walking seminars that stand in the present but imagine a possible (and positive) future?
  • How to share our love for Ottawa – the local and the capital – in a new way?How to create a welcoming space for people to connect and engage in good conversation?
  • How far can we take the idea of a sustainable, social enterprise?
  • What business models best support this approach and our values?
  • How can we create a thriving organization that aligns with our values, life commitments, and those of our team?

In the short term, this means a few things:

  • Our tours are running. Join us (bookings via ottawadetours.ca) as we walk them, explore the city, and learn what makes this kind of exploration really work.
  • We are open to trying new themes. We’ll try them out quickly. Better to sketch out afew ideas and then put shoes on, than to ponder at a desk for ages and find out the pieces don’t fit.
  • Encouraging everyone who is part of the initiative to test different approaches, and to seek and share feedback on what works best, and where we can improve.
  • Walk our talk – we are building some walking seminars on topics of interest to us, but where we aren’t experts, to expand our own understanding of the process.
  • Continuing to work with engaged subject matter experts, and providing them with support to bring it alive in this format.
  • Working through ideas with people who have supported us from the beginning, those who have came on board along the way, those who are new and curious, and those who are skeptical or indifferent.
  • Staying true to our three components (a walk, a conversation over a meal or drinks, and resources to help continue the conversation). We started with a vision for each of these elements, and find the richness of the (de)tours experience grows through experimenting with each.
  • Staying lean and agile – keeping our costs low and our structure light, to build a sustainable operation while making sure we have the agility we need.
  • We want to continue to share our learning, and to learn from our experiences to create a better one for our participants.

Written by Susan Johnston