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

3.72  ·  Rating details ·  342 ratings  ·  35 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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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
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
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
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. ...more
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. ...more
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
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
Jan 03, 2021 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I do not see any practical value in the book, only a jump start for other books to find.

I could not help, but think to often about the violation of Rudolf Carnap's demand of intersubjectively plausible definitions, violations against Occam's razor and against KISS.
Further more too many begging the question fallacies.

"The major claim in this book is that tempo can be used to modulate enactments that move along too quickly to manage one micro decision at a time."
If you adapt to the situat
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
Brian Thorson
While parts of this book engaged in high theory, the conclusions are broadly applicable.

Gaining an appreciation for the tempo of time can and should effect everything from introspection, to designing processes and doctrine, to understanding culture.

A good quote summarizing one of the themes of the book is, “So when you next travel to an island destination like Hawaii, you need to reset two clocks. When you reset your wristwatch to the local time, remember also to reset your narrative time clock
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). ...more
Leland William
1.5 stars. I was disappointed by this. I really enjoyed the Gervais Principle and I hoped there would be more insightful moments in this book. Unfortunately, the author focuses to much on the technical details of his tempo framework and it wasn't very cogent. Oh well, off to somethig better. ...more
Jul 20, 2021 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: previewed
I suggest this author to read something more about scientific psychology rather than pop psychology.

This guy is really imaginative, stuck everything into a "system" without any verification and falsification. Very amateur anyway.
William Tarbush
Dec 18, 2021 rated it it was ok
Started well

The premise was good with great initial chapters but actionable ideas slowed down as the book went on. I took a lot of highlights at first but they stopped in the middle of the book.
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. ...more
Feb 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourite
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
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
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. ...more
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. ...more
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. ...more
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. ...more
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