It is probably the deepest book you will read this year. Rao is a meticulous thinker with original ideas.
In a sense, this book is illegible, as per the sense that this word takes in the book. That is, this book is difficult, or impossible, to summarize neatly. I am unsure where I would put it in a library. Military, business, philosophy or psychology?
There is practical, actionable advice in this book. The author tells us that we should become more aware of the rhythms around us. Wars are lost or won based on timing. I am reminded of how carefully a company like Apple times the release of its products. I am reminded of Glenn Gould's contrapuntal radio technique, where conversations are turned into music.
All in all, Rao is forcing us to rethink the world around us. If you are a creative, this book is for you.
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This book is a dense, yet highly approachable treatment of various topics around decision-making. However, instead of a dull, boring and academic book one might expect from a PhD, this is a thought-provoking and (at many points) entertaining book. Rao's approach of the subject is rather unorthodox by simply making his topics immediately applicable with "real-life" examples.
As Rao mentions in his book, much of the material is a synthesis of various authors and fields. The scope of "Tempo" is wide in the variety of fields that he draws upon, yet narrow enough in the distillation of the core concepts that he explains in clear language. Tongue-in-cheek, I would liken this book as a mix of 1/3-Taleb, 1/3-Gladwell and 1/3-self-help. Unlike many existing books on the idea of cognitive biases and how our brains can fool us, Tempo takes a more meta view that paradoxically allows one to literally view their life in a different light.
For me, many of the concepts Rao explains resonated with my subconscious understanding of the world at large, bringing into sharp focus certain aspects of life during moments of solitude and self-reflection that are now easily explained.
I personally felt that the book was a bit on the short side, but only because I happen to have found the book so immensely useful to me in my daily life. The less formal writing style of the author allows one to read the book in one sitting. However, upon further percolation, you would be well served to read through Tempo again to practice the exercises used in the book. Thankfully, such exercises are perfect to explore in moments of idleness or boredom; which I have found to be the best moments for self-reflection.Read more ›
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It is hard to imagine a publisher accepting such a pail of turds for publication. But apparently it happened. It is a rambling account of a non-idea pursued for whatever reason by a person who sounds otherwise well-educated. Too bad his editors and friends didn't save him from this.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
70 of 80 people found the following review helpful
Off TempoNov. 16 2011
- Published on Amazon.com
I wanted to like this book as I've been following the author's blog for a few months and generally find his ideas to be interesting. I cannot, however, recommend this book. The writing and layout of the book are stilted and the presented ideas are not as groundbreaking as the author thinks.
First, the writing in the book is not good. You will enjoy it if you like reading the typical academic paper that uses lots of jargon and fancy words to express ideas that could be more simply explained. One gets the impression that the author is smart, knows you know he's smart, and yet still wants to show you he's smart. Ugh. There are many paragraphs in the text that seemingly are there for clarity and exemplification of the ideas discussed, but they often exist as one off explanations that do not build into any larger story. To riff off the author's ideas, they are notes in a piece of music waiting for resolution.
The layout of the book is like a dissertation (an observation my wife made as she leafed through the pages). It actually leads to a cluttered reading experience as each subheading within a chapter is given a number, and then each sub-subheading is given its own number. The book is 150 pages long, would it be difficult for me to find what I'd need to without these numbers?
One might say I struggle to find something to critique by pointing to the numbering of the chapters, but as the book itself notes, these subtle choices make an impression (often subconscious) on the energy or 'tempo' of a story. Ironically, it seems, the author spends many pages discussing the wide applicability of his ideas, but he never bothered to recognize his own text is laconic. Quite frankly, the book became a slog to push through despite its small size. The last few chapters were better than what preceded them, but those 30 decent pages do not make up for the remainder.He must have either not applied his ideas to this book or actively designed this layout to make the ideas seem more powerful given how difficult it is to push on.
For all the thinking the author has done on human interactions, one would think he would know pedagogical techniques that help someone learn and apply new ideas. One does not learn how to speak English by memorizing a hundred vocabulary words and then diagramming sentences. And you certainly don't expect these steps will turn you into Shakespeare. But the author seems to disagree and explains how to diagram sentences all why telling you just how marvelous the language is. In the book (and his blog posts for that matter), he prefers to lay a foundation of elementary ideas in great detail and then hurriedly tries to bring these elements back into a larger idea. This style works well for shorter online posts, but it falls flat with even this small book. The ideas of the middle chapters are presented in disjointed fashion with little clarification as to how they fit into the larger structure. Then the last few chapters makes tenuous connections, which fall flat in truly fleshing out the ideas. ("Remember this thing I mentioned 3 chapters ago that I haven't talked about since? Good, but I'm not going to explain it further.") The reader is left wondering why he bothered to push through the middle chapters.
Finally, the ideas presented in the book are nowhere near as groundbreaking as the author and reviewers on Amazon suggest. Did you know that there is a tempo to everything in the world? That is, everything has a "rhythm, emotion, and energy." This seems apparent. Did you know everything in the world must be viewed through a mental model? Again, this has been covered before by others. Did you know that with an understanding the ongoing mental model of a person and a sense of timing, you can influence an outcome to your advantage? Wow...groundbreaking stuff.
Apparently, the author suggests it is not that these individual ideas are new, but rather the book is a "work of broad synthesis and integration." Please. Mentioning Napoleon in one sentence and email in another does represent some new, broader understanding of human and nonhuman action.
I conclude with the author's quote from a former student who said: "I like the material, but I don't yet see the thin red line connecting all the ideas." The author apparently set out with clarifying the connections with this book, but that task remains unaccomplished.
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Great ideas, poorly conveyedMarch 8 2013
- Published on Amazon.com
Tempo contains great ideas: there is a "tempo" to everything from cooking to driving to conversing. Mr. Rao takes the word 'tempo' to mean something quite different from its context in music (tempo is like the frequency or speed of a song's rhythm); however according to Mr. Rao tempo is a measure of any activity consisting of three elements: rhythm, energy, and emotion. The book talks about how people make sense out of raw data, organize their thoughts and make decisions. He synthesizes ideas from physics, psychology, philosophy, war, theater, and a number of other domains. This is a great endeavor.
While the ideas are great, the way in which Mr. Rao conveys them is really poor. Mr. Rao seems to have written it in ways that are more difficult for the readers to understand than it needs to be. This could partly be due to the fact that English is not Mr. Rao's native language. More than once I have wondered whether he translated his concepts directly from his native language to English. I was frequently tempted to put down the book because of his poor writing style. Another irritating fact about Mr. Rao's writing is that throughout the book he often mentions ideas and stories related to the subject, but never discusses them in any meaningful way, and it seems he does this to just to show off that he knows them.
Mr. Rao seems to have failed to grasp that his readers may be laymen interested in learning about his ideas, using them, and perhaps improving their lives as a result. Instead, it appears as though Mr. Rao is rather speaking to an audience who are critiquing his intellectual ability or his grasp of the material. He seems to have been constricted by the need to 'stylize' his writing--to make it look more like the work of someone such as Dr. Eric Berne. (By the way, his chapter on Arhetype/Doctrine seems to be plagiarized from Dr. Berne's "Games People Play"). When someone like Dr. Berne writes about 'Doctrines', they come across to the readers as natural and original. With Mr. Rao, you can't help but cringe at the lack of flow or coherence. Why? I think (but I may be wrong), Mr. Rao is trying to be someone that he is not. To Mr. Rao: find your own proclivity, don't imitate another thinker.
The book has been constructed to be more difficult than it needs to be. You may have to read the book two or three or more times to fully appreciate the contents. Many sentences are vague, ambiguous and convoluted. I'm sure Mr. Rao is offering a substance in his sentences, but Jeez, they're just horrible constructs.
One other criticism I have about Mr. Rao's work is that his book is not as comprehensive and original as he may like to think. He tends to give the impression that his book is 'that' final synthesis of ideas on timing. Not so! He is also obsessed with coining new expressions and words, which is okay for some ideas, but I felt he often does it for the sake of doing it (for the sake of being another Eric Berne, if only he didn't come across as un-natural). He doesn't even seem to have a fair, comprehensive grasp of writers like Stephen Covey, whom he dismisses as mere "Calculative Rationalists" who don't have a good understanding about the art of timing or 'opportunism'. Mr. Rao, perhaps you should read Stephen Covey's chapter on: "Put first things first" and you may see that Dr. Covey knows about timing a lot more than you're giving him the credit for.
For interested buyers: this is a book with good ideas but bad writing; just know that you'll have to work hard to make sense out of it. Hard copy is ridiculously expensive. Publisher should consider selling it for something like $11 or $12.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Life lessons in timing, tactics and strategy.Aug. 29 2011
- Published on Amazon.com
"Tempo" is a dense, yet highly approachable treatment of various topics around decision-making. However, instead of a dull, boring and academic book one might expect from a PhD, this is thought-provoking and (at many points) entertaining. Rao's approach of the subject is rather unorthodox by simply making his theory immediately applicable with "real-life" examples.
As Rao mentions in the book, much of the material is a synthesis of various authors and fields. The scope of "Tempo" is wide in the variety of fields that he draws upon, yet narrow enough in the distillation of core concepts explained in clear language. Tongue-in-cheek, I would liken "Tempo" as a mix of 1/3-Taleb, 1/3-Gladwell and 1/3-self-help. Unlike many existing books on the idea of cognitive biases and how our brains can fool or lead us astry, Tempo takes a more meta view that paradoxically allows one to literally view their life within the context of an ultimately richer narrative.
For me, many of the concepts Rao explains resonated with my previously subconscious understanding of the world at large, bringing into sharp focus certain aspects of life during moments of solitude and self-reflection that are now more easily explained.
I personally felt that the book was a bit on the short side, but only because I happen to have found the theory so immensely useful to me in my daily life. Rao's less formal writing style allows one to read "Tempo" in one sitting. However, upon further percolation, you would be well served to read through it again to practice the exercises used in the book. Thankfully, such exercises are perfect to explore in moments of idleness or boredom, which I've found to be the best moments for self-reflection and improvement.
As a last comment, it should be noted that Rao's blog allows one to dig deeper into the wide-ranging topics contained in "Tempo". I would hesitate to call this a tour-de-force, but it certainly comes close as a brilliant exposé into the world of decision-making and tempo in our lives. This book is highly recommended!
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
For Reflective People Interested in a Sophisticated Approach to How We Structure Our Reality and the Decisions that ResultDec 25 2011
- Published on Amazon.com
Although I've not met Venkatesh Rao, I was introduced to him via email last summer after reading the book. In my personal letter to him I said:
"I finished, and quite enjoyed, Tempo yesterday.
I especially enjoyed Chapters 2, 3, and 4. While reading them I found myself increasingly dazzled by each new conceptual innovation, then wondering whether you would actually convince me that your conceptual innovations were useful, and then being profoundly grateful for the pay-off when it came through, over and over again. I LOVE the Freytag Staircase, an immense amount of good stuff is packed neatly and conveniently into that one concept. At one point I was thinking that this was one of the most original, interesting, and valuable books written in the past fifty years - and I read a LOT. I was also wondering how on earth you were going to land this plane, so to speak, after such a spectacular ride.
That said, Chapter 5 didn't quite do as much for me as did the earlier chapters (I've got nothing against Chapter 1, it just isn't a superstar as are 2, 3, and 4). It might be that I just haven't adequately digested your definitions of "strategy" and "tactic," and that when I do perhaps I'll be just as dazzled as I was by 2, 3, and 4.
Chapter 6, at this point, seems simply harmless and anti-climactic, almost banal in comparison to your earlier intellectual pyrotechnics - though again perhaps I will have a gestalt shift later after I've more completely digested the tools you've given me."
It is interesting, having read the other reviews, that the one negative review specified the last 30 pages as the best - those that I found anti-climactic.
This is not an easy book to digest, nor will it appeal to most casual readers. After reading it I found myself drawn to re-read Eric Auerbach's "Mimesis," a wonderfully personal, yet highly scholarly, account of the role of representation in the literature of western civilization. I see Auerbach's "Mimesis" as really the history of individuality from Homer to the present.
Now that I'm six months removed from Tempo I find that I still reflect on it. The concept of the Freytag staircase that he develops, an elaboration of the well-known Freytag's pyramid of dramatic structure, is a useful way for me to reflect on the emotional dynamics and decision-making frameworks that have been characteristic of various phases of my life. I'm a big fan of Alasdair MacIntyre's notion that a virtue culture is dependent on a lifelong framework of meaning, and as an educator I use the concept of lifelong goals to encourage young people to structure their lives in serious and productive ways. Rao's Freytag staircase, and the associated conceptual framework before and after, will provide adults who are serious about lifelong meaning with an additional lens through which to understand their own goal-orientation and decision structure.
Tempo covers so much ground across many different domains that it is difficult to summarize. It is a short book, and I would simply encourage those who are interesting in a much more sophisticated understanding of how they and others structure their personal narratives and decision-making to read it and integrate Rao's conceptual tools into your own personal narratives and decision-making.
10 of 14 people found the following review helpful
TEMPO and Decision Making Under PressureJune 19 2011
- Published on Amazon.com
I describe this book "Tempo: Timing, Tactics and Strategy in Narrative Decision Making" as insightful and though provoking. It is a book that will take those of us wanting to improve situation awareness and decision making under pressure on a journey to developing, creating and nurturing the attributes and skills necessary in doing so.
The book is influenced by Carl von Clausewitz, Alfred Thayer Mahan, John Boyd, Gary Klein and Malcolm Gladwell to name a popular few who study and develop decision makers. The author blends these influences with his thoughts and insights on decision making in an outstanding way telling me he understands the big picture, the moral, mental and physical dimensions decisions are made in and he does so very nicely.
The author of Tempo, Venkatesh Rao a man I have never met or heard of prior to the book, began research into decision making that was funded by the United States Air Force and concerned key concepts such as mixed initiative command and control models: complex systems where humans, autonomous robotic combat vehicles and software systems share decision making authority. This research led Rao to this insightful 157 page book, packed full of useful information all law enforcement and security professionals should read.
The book is also very much inspired by the decisions of everyday life and the examples he uses to make his points come from the arena of everyday, making the sometimes difficult to explain lessons (emotion and timing, situation awareness, fluidity what he calls going with the flow, pace setting, dissonance, and the skill of putting it all together with a sense of timing needed in solving complex problems, very approachable, understandable and transferable to training programs and the street.
"There is a tide in the affairs of men. Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life. Is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat; And we must take the current when it serves, Or lose our ventures." ~Julius Cesar, Act IV, Scene 3
Rao, has great insights into how we develop mental models and their usefulness in developing situation awareness he describes as; "our subjective sense of the immediate relevance and quality of an active mental model: an unwieldy dynamic and partially coherent construct that represents our understanding of a particular class of situations." In short our "orientation" or how we individually and collectively see a situation. This in my view expounds on the importance of experience and lessons learned. Lessons learned from every day interaction. There is power in leveraging every lesson!
In the chapter he titled Narrative Rationality described as; "an approach to decision making that starts with an observation that is at once trivial and profound: all our choices are among life stories that end with our individual deaths. Surprisingly, this philosophical observation leads to very practical conceptualizations of key abstractions in decision making, such as strategy and tactic, and unique perspectives on classic decision-science such as risk and learning." Orientation and the factors Boyd discuss that shape and reshapes orientation; cultural traditions, genetic heritage, previous experiences, new information and analysis and synthesis all play a roll here. He goes on to say that the simple view "calculative rationality" or planning is not wrong, it's just limited to simple situations that fits one or more of your existing mental models very well. In complex situations, planning based on such models is merely a training exercise to sample the space of possible worlds, get a sense of the complexities involved, and calibrate your responses appropriately. This is what Eisenhower when he said, "plans are nothing, planning is everything." He also quotes Marc Anderson the creator of the Web browser Netscape:
"The process of planning is very valuable, for forcing you to think hard about what you are doing, but the actual plan that results from it is probably useless."
Narrative rationality is based on a very different foundation, the structure of stories.
"Narrative rationality is the ability to think, make decisions, and act in ways that make sense with respect to the most compelling and elegant story that you can improvise about a developing enactment."
This is a powerful chapter that breaks down the differences between linear processes (calculative rationality) and the non-linear (narrative rationality) very important to understand in real time dynamic encounters.
The importance of the explorer mentality is highlighted in the book.
"We have identified learning, in the most general sense, as the process of constructing a mental model from scratch. This process is open ended and has no goals beyond hardwired biological ones. It is unsupervised, uncertain, unbounded, unstructured, and mostly unrewarding. In more familiar terms, there are no teachers, safety belts, syllabi, grades or prizes.
Given these characteristics, it should not be surprising that it is a very disorientation and stressful phase in a deep story. Things you don't know that you don't know (unknown-unknown beliefs) dominate the situation."
This above attributes should sound very familiar to those in the law enforcement and security world as they permeate many encounters and interactions as we accord with an adversary.
He discusses entropy, the friction and difficulty of putting it all together as we attempt to observe, orient, decide and act in unfolding circumstances.
"The anxiety and incoherence of exploration cannot increase indefinitely. Whether or not we have enough information to act effectively, the sheer cognitive stress of exploration makes us seek relief, even when it takes the form of safe play among children. Our minds demand relief, and this leads to the moment I call the cheap trick, when the trajectory of increasing dissonance and entropy is arrested and turned around. The moment occurs when you recognize exploitable patterns in the raw material you have collected in your exploration.
Picture the stress level you have as you respond to a call and approach a potentially dangerous situation. Emotions are high, situation awareness is low. Who is setting the pace, the "TEMPO" of the encounter, you or your adversary? Now! How do you disrupt the flow and change the TEMPO? Do you even recognize the changes in TEMPO? If so is the TEMPO change to your advantage or disadvantage? What decision will you make next? Will that decision be based on some policy and procedure or will it be based on you ability to explore and gain more information before you act? Will your next action be one that is beneficial allowing you to safely and effectively solve the problem or will it be a decision that is detrimental to your safety? You are there. You have to act. Will the action you take be based on decision making abilities you posses, the tactic you choose or will it be based on an emotional response, luck or beating the odds?
"As you may have guessed by my introducing the notion of entropy into our discussion, we are working towards a way to correct this unnatural state of affairs. We are going to start thinking of time in terms of a unidirectional phenomenon, entropy. It won't be even or continuous, but as we will see, those requirements are only critical for calculative rationality. Narrative rationality necessitates a bumpy, uneven ride."
The book, Tempo: Timing, Tactics and Strategy in Narrative-Driven Decision Making will help you learn the problems and solutions that surround decision making. In my view if you take the time to read it, digest and think about the numerous concepts that surround decision making exposed in this book, you be much safer and much more effective on the street. I highly recommend this book. Be sure to check out [...] as well.