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Tempo: Timing, Tactics and Strategy in Narrative-Driven Decision-Making

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  300 ratings  ·  30 reviews
Tempo is a modern treatment of decision-making that weaves together concepts and principles from the mathematical decision sciences, cognitive psychology, philosophy and theories of narrative and metaphor. Drawing on examples from familiar domains such as the kitchen and the office, the author, Venkatesh Rao, illustrates the subtleties underlying everyday behavior, and exp ...more
Kindle Edition, 176 pages
Published (first published January 1st 2011)
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Jordan Peacock
Tempo is a library in a book. For good and/or ill, it demands a lot of the reader. Concepts are covered in 3 pages that deserve 30, and many are outsourced to the admirable bibliography for fuller treatment. Tempo is best approached as a map - intentionally bringing to the fore enough information to provide directionality and context while leaving the specifics to be encountered or sought.

It's a dense book, as a result - high information, in the Shannon sense, but maintaining consilience. The ma
Nov 14, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I'm a big fan of Venkat's writing at ribbonfarm. However, often I feel reading him is a guilty pleasure. Venkat is a good writer, and even better reader. He connects many distant concepts into broader frameworks.

Why guilty pleasure then? Well I think, these frameworks very, very rarely do any actual work - the new viewpoints, do not yield any practical benefits, insight or understanding. They reparametrize usually simple, often overlooked, concepts with much more complex constructions. While the
Simon Eskildsen
Tempo is the pace at which something moves, whether a project, dinner party, or heart rate. We are highly influenced by the tempo around us, made up of rhytm, emotion, and energy. Changing a tempo is like a state transition, requiring activation energy to push it from one to the other—significantly harder than following the pace already set. Rao states that "emotion is the result of tempo of the environment not meeting expectations."

All of that was in the first few chapters, and I enjoyed explor
Michael Rubin
Jun 08, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: management
I was very hopeful about this book. It came from a friend. Also the first two chapters are very gripping. The writing style and the deep narrative tone raised my expectations. What I liked a lot was the ideas on how to diagram a conversation. Also the of appreciation of John Boyd and brief explanation of OODA was good.

But overall not a lot of content. More of a "common sense" tome mixed in with a plethora of academic quotes. Very high level and not a book that I think will help anyone learn how
Vikrant Varma
Packed with insights but hard to comprehend. Rao's style is to take you through dozens of models for every idea, but when he does give examples they illustrate wonderfully. I'll be digesting this for a while.
Oleksandr Nikitin
Feb 17, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A book that's simultaneously very broad and very niche. Not an easy read in any way. Important, still.
Maxwell Foley
This was a very strange book. I read it because I have seen a lot of interesting-looking content emerging from the scene around this guy's blog, However I have never known where to begin when it comes to reading him. After reading this book, I am more confused than ever.

The book essentially reads as if a middle-aged consultant took LSD and went to a board meeting. Suddenly, the inner workings of the office is revealed to him as an elegant dance of information. The Q3 financial r
Sep 25, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Venkatesh Rao's book is a brilliant read that incorporates learning theory, real-time assessment of uncertainty, and most importantly conceptual models that allow one to see and understand their surroundings faster (and perceptively randomly) than others.

While Rao does struggle with being too prescriptive (an approach akin to a self-help cookbook), he successfully strains to point out to the reader that learning and conceptual recognition (and the tempo by which that is accomplished) is not poss
Feb 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fun read and some cool mental concepts to play around with. If you've ever wondered about rhythm/timing and how it might apply in different contexts, you'll love this book.

Loved the part on narrative structure, somewhat like the mythological Heroes journey of Jung/Campbbell, applied to tempo.

Rao notes 'narrative rationality' is a powerful and dangerous approach to decision making. Thinking in terms of stories leads to all sorts of biases. But it provides a quick 'true enough' summary of our curr
Dec 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"1. You cannot win. 2. You cannot break even. 3. You cannot quit the game."

Reviews for Tempo are mixed, a phenomenon (iirc) the author himself noted in the years since publication. It's a very high variance book, leaving people with the "what did I just read?" of a life-altering experience or the "what did I just read?" of someone reading an Internet comments section -- seemingly, nothing in between. And I -- spoiler, I liked it, not sure if the star rating tipped my hand? -- I totally see it be
Keshav Zodey
Jul 20, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am not sure about the timing of my reading of this book. The book is more like a reference manual where you get many references to great books from varied streams. The author builds on a these various topics and introduces a completely new lexicon which might take time to get used to. Before giving it a try, reading at least 3-4 blogs on ribbonfarm is must. Only if you make sense of or connect with his unusual style, you should give this a try.

Ensure you have some light fiction running in par
Ben Ide
Sep 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Tempo explores narrative rationality, as opposed to usual calcative rationality. From a calculative rational perspective, this book offers another way to explore how the world works in a neat package, ready for use. From a narrative perspective, you will gain even more. Well worth a read.
Oct 31, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The ideas in this book are presented in a fairly dense form. It's the type of book I think I'll have to re-read a few times. On first read however some great concepts on decision making and how change is a narrative (this I think will be useful in change management).
Has some good ideas, but I found it quite jumbled and a little hard to follow. That's obviously my bad, not the author's.
Richard Kemp
Feb 02, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own, revisit
The author of this book has a PhD in Engineering, which as an Engineer of lesser qualifications I have great respect for. His career is inspiring. His blog is well written, insightful, and compelling.

Unfortunately, this book is trash. My best guess (to reconcile this with the above) is that the concepts he describes make perfect sense *to him* but they are either not universally compatible with other people's modes other thinking (like mine), or he did a terrible job of explaining himself. As mu
Aug 29, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I have to say I had high expectations after all the excellent articles I'd read at Venkat's blog Ribbonfarm. I am afraid I was slightly disappointed, ultimately. A lot of the wit and cultural references that make his blog posts so enjoyable are absent here. Venkat seems to be catering to a broader audience here and has taken a safer route.

Comparisons aside, this is a pretty dense, challenging but welcome antidote to the typical way of thinking about strategy, tactics and decision making, which i
Jul 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The book, as many point out, is almost too compact, giving you so much to chew on that you'll be busy for months, even years, in understanding and applying its ideas to your reality.

Not exactly the “theory of everything”, but somehow close. At least when it comes to decision making. The fascinating thing a out this book, for me, are parallels and similarities to other, seemingly unrelated books and ideas, like, for example, “Finite and Infinite Games", or “The Information”. Too much to outline i
Sandy Maguire
Nov 03, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I bought this book on the strength of one article I read and really liked on ribbonfarm.

I made a huge mistake, but I *did* learn something from this book -- how not to write one. It's almost a textbook example: front-load with lots and lots of definitions without any motivation. I found myself continually *not* trusting the author, who would make wild claims with no substantiation or citation.

All in all, I got about 50% through this book but finally decided to sink the cost. That being said, I'
Jun 11, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I am a fan of Venkat's prose on Quora and on his blog but this book is too esoteric for even a devout fan to understand. I get the feeling that Rao is driving toward some grandiose idea but he spends far too long defining a lexicon before he even explains why the reader should care about the theory he is constructing.
Oct 15, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: viewquakes
Narratives are epicycles. Not always correct, not even _correct_ in the true meaning of the word, but a great computable approximation for many things. Rao explores this idea in detail and in doing so manages to describe how I think. Awesome book, and don't lambast it from a hill of scientism, but appreciate all the intuition pumps and little nuggets that it serves to your brain.
Ryan Murdock
Jan 22, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A brilliant book with a very original take on strategy and tactics, organization and the ways we construct narrative meaning. My copy is already full of dog eared pages marking notes I need to make and concepts to look up. This is a book that demands rereading, and slow careful thought.
Feb 09, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The pacing was off. Too many metaphors came too fast, with too little introduction and then were lost, abandoned in favor of new metaphors with too little context shared between them.

Still, an interesting menagerie of metaphors.
Fred Leland
Nov 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Here is the link to my review ...more
Dec 27, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Greg Linster
Jan 18, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This book is unlike anything I've ever read and it was difficult to grapple with. I like some of Rao's writing on his blog "ribbonfarm", but this book was not my cup of tea.
Dave V
Mar 10, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good book, but not quite as good as some parts of his blog. You can tell he's proud of this work and spent a lot of time on it.
Kenneth Myers
It's complicated. I'll tell you over beer.
Xavier Shay
Aug 24, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I can't put into words exactly what I got out of this but it was a useful read.
Samuel Gruen
Jan 14, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: business, psychology
I think I didn't do justice to the overall framework being developed throughout the book. I'll set it aside and re-read it at a later date.
Alec Perkey
Jan 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Interesting for those seeking to build temporal iterations into their lifestyle.
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