Review of Tempo by Venkatesh Rao

Rating: 5/5

One sentence: An integrating books that sparks connection between fields that I would never have guessed spring from related roots.

I have read this book twice, and yet there is definitely a lot of material that I have not yet assimilated into a coherent understanding of reality. The same pattern of density can be recognized in his blog. Unlike most writers whose words contain 1 unit or less of meaning, almost every word says more than one thing. Luckily his work is not totally as dense as poetry, for then it would have taken me many months to tease out the full meaning of his work.

The central organizing principle in this book is that of tempo. Everything we do has its own characteristic tempo and most of our behavior can be interpreted in how we are influenced by and influence the tempo of our environment.

The book starts with characterizing tempo into its three components: Rhythm, emotion, and energy. A handy doodle system is introduced that you can use to compactly represent the tempo of an environment or event. You are shown one of the skills that can be used to become more aware of tempo in your everyday life.

In the second chapter, an explanation is given about why tempo is so prevalent in every domain. The answer: It allows you to comprehend the thousands of events that surround you and all your myriad unconscious decisions made in response to them. It allows you to feel the texture of activity without consciously evaluating the thousands of thoughts that constantly flow through you.

The third chapter deals with mental models and how we use them continuously to make sense of the world that surrounds us. Our models are continuously changing and shifting their momentum. The one with the most momentum usually dictates our actions and allows us to dismiss all the wrong possibilities. We create mental models by using archetypes to symbolize many different situations and from these derive rules that we use to govern our behavior.

Of these archetypes, the one that is constantly gathering momentum is our self-archetype. We are continuously writing and rewriting our life story in a way that allows us to function. This narrative rationality is the topic of chapter four. These stories work by allowing us to act in spite of lacking or virtually non-existent data.

As we move through life we inevitably become more set in our ways and less capable of being truly open-minded. The stories we tell ourselves go through different phases, each with its own characteristic tempo and level of understanding. Each time we go through a major re-write of our story, our direction changes. One that is particularly wide-reaching is experienced as being reborn.

Chapter five dives into strategy and people’s characteristic decision styles. I could recognize the four types laid out in Adizes’ book Mastering Change needed for management.

Finally, the book ends off by exploring how our environments are externalized mental models, how communication takes place and how tempo relates to organizations. This was the type of book where I want to go read the entire bibliography. It is one of the saddest things in life that we will never be able to read all the good and interesting books about many different subjects.

Our mortality can also be one of our greatest joys, for it spurs us on to focus on what matters in this limited time that we have. We are mortal, and unlike the idealized rational-calculative person, we grow old and die. At least for now, who know what tomorrow may bring?

To happiness, and beyond





2 thoughts on “Review of Tempo by Venkatesh Rao

  1. Pingback: Start with what you know works | joshuatotheworld

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