The Art of Gig II

by Venkat on March 26, 2015

Read Part I first.

I shut the door of the conference room gently behind us. We could still hear Khan and Isabella out in the reception area, but their voices were now muted. Saul seemed to be in some sort of philosophical reverie as he made his way to his chair. Guanxi looked at me with narrowed eyes and nodded significantly. I narrowed my eyes as well, and nodded significantly in turn. A look of mutual understanding passed between us.

It’s a consultant thing. We call it the Significant Look Protocol.

Scientists have tried to figure out precisely what information is exchanged and  during these narrowed-eye-nod exchanges, and have come up with nothing. What is known though, is that about 1% of the time, a Significant Look results in a subtle, but unmistakable situational change known as Going Meta. Nobody knows what that is either, but it is a documented fact that when things Go Meta, cartels form and billables increase by a factor of 10.

This means a great many Significant Looks are exchanged at management conferences, but most lead to nothing. Some lead to sexual harrassment lawsuits.

This was one of those 1% of times. We had just gone meta. We both knew it, and knew the other did too.

[click to continue…]


The Art of Gig

by Venkat on March 19, 2015

I don’t talk about my consulting gigs much on this blog, since there is surprisingly little overlap between my money-making work and my writing. But many people seem to be very curious about precisely what sort of consulting I do, and how that side of ribbonfarm operates. Unfortunately, it’s hard to explain without talking about actual cases, and I can’t share details of most engagements due to confidentiality constraints. But fortunately, one of my recent clients agreed to let me write up minimally pseudonymized account of a brief gig I did with them a while back.  So here goes.

It all began when my phone rang at 1 AM on a Tuesday morning a few months ago. The caller launched right into it the moment I answered.

“Oh thank God! Donna has the ‘flu…I tried calling Guanxi Gao, but I can’t reach him. I left a message but… omigod, we’re going to run out of inventory by Friday, what are we going to do?”

If you aren’t used to the consulting world, this is how most engagements begin: you’re dropped into a panicked conversation in the middle of a crisis that has already been unfolding for sometime.

Luckily, I was not yet in bed, but doing some routine Open Twitter Operations from the Ribbonfarm Consulting Command Center.

I hit the red alert button on my desk, which turned off all but one of the 16 flat-panel displays that line one wall of the darkened main room of the RCCC. The one that stayed on showed a blank 2×2 grid with a flashing lemon-yellow border. The speakers switched from Mongolian throat singing to a steady pip…pip…pip. 


Many consultants today use more complicated first-responder protocols, but I am old-fashioned. One clean vertical stroke, one clean horizontal stroke, at most 10 quick labels, and you’ve got your Situation all Awared-Up in the top right. 75% complexity reduction in minutes.

Ten seconds into the call, and I was already set up to Observe, Orient, Decide and Act. This is the sort of agility my clients have come to expect from me.

[click to continue…]


The Art of Agile Leadership

by Venkat 03.12.2015

Like most of you, I have no idea what I am doing 98.3% of the time I make a decision. Of that slice of the pie, I am actively getting it not-even-wrong 93% of the time. I bumble through on the strength of the 5.3% of the time I get it right by accident, and […]

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Gardens Need Walls: On Boundaries, Ritual, and Beauty

by Sarah Perry 03.04.2015

Sarah Perry is a contributing editor of Ribbonfarm. This essay attempts to place ritual in the context of evolving complex systems, and to offer an explanation for why everything is so ugly and nobody seems to be able to do anything about it. On Boundaries and Their Permeability Boundaries are an inherent, universal feature of […]

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The Mother of All 2x2s

by Venkat 02.25.2015

A few weeks ago, I tweeted that I had made up the mother of all 2x2s — taxes vs. play/death vs. life — and that a large fraction of the models I’ve been playing with over the last couple of years, here on this blog, seem to fall neatly into (or are amenable to being […]

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A Dent in the Universe

by Venkat 02.18.2015

At higher levels of the Maslow hierarchy, imagination is a survival skill. At the apex, where self-actualization is the primary concern, lack of imagination means death. Metaphoric death followed by literal death of the sort that tortured artists achieve through suicide. Less sensitive souls, such as earnest political philosophers and technically brilliant but unimaginative mathematicians, seem […]

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What Is Ritual?

by Sarah Perry 02.11.2015

Sarah Perry  is a resident blogger visiting us from her home turf at The View from Hell. If we should inquire for the essence of “government,” for example, one man might tell us it was authority, another submission, another police, another an army, another an assembly, another a system of laws; yet all the while […]

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Refactor Camp 2015: Narrative

by Venkat 02.02.2015

It’s Refactor Camp time again for the fourth time.  As with the last three years, the event will again be held in the Bay Area over the first weekend in March.  This year, that’s the weekend of March 7-8 in San Francisco. Click here to register. The theme this year is narrative. Even though this […]

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The Heroine’s Journey

by Editor 01.28.2015

Haley Thurston is a resident blogger visiting us from her home turf at The Sublemon. What are women afraid of? Why do women matter? How are women useful? Do these questions have gender-specific answers? In The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell says that a hero is “someone who has found or achieved or done something beyond […]

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Let’s Play! Narrative Discovery vs. Expert Guides

by Ryan Tanaka 01.21.2015

Ryan Tanaka is a resident blogger, visiting us from his home turf at The latest musical work that inspired this article can be found here. (Animated music video!) If you’ve been watching South Park’s recent episodes, you might have noticed YouTube commentator PewDiePie making a few cameos here and there near the top corners […]

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