Hello to Slashdotters, Gervais Principle Follow-Ups

I don’t do many meta posts, but yesterday’s slashdotting (thanks @kdawson) of the Gervais Principle post, complete with a couple of hours of server-choking,  certainly demands one. The day easily broke all traffic, comment and coffee-buying records on this blog. So, a “Hello!” to everybody who found ribbonfarm.com through Slashdot, and I hope you sign up for the RSS feed or email list. I am posting this to introduce you to the rest of this blog and do a quick initial reaction to the comments (here, on Slashdot, Twitter, and on Hacker News).  So here goes.

A Quick Introduction to Ribbonfarm

  1. At least two people have suggested that the Gervais Principle post is worth expanding into a book. Response: I am already writing one called Tempo, on (individual) decision-making. The Gervais Principle post was actually an exploration of some ideas for a sequel on group decision-making. But let me get the first book finished. Do sign up for the book’s announcement list and/or beta testing list.
  2. You may want to follow the Best of Ribbonfarm trail for a sampler of the sort of stuff I write.  To follow a trail of posts, just use the right sidebar navigation signs. Clicking the bev_h icon gets you to a Flash map of the trail. Double clicking any node on the map gets you back down to that article. If you want to know more about trails, read the postscript.
  3. If you want to specifically explore more of my past writing in this general sociopaths-rule vein, I set up a new trail called The Way of the Sociopath. I write posts like this maybe once every few weeks. Takes a  particular phase in my manic-depressive cycle to get one of these out.
  4. One of the comments on Hacker News (I think) was that this sort of  TV-show based analysis would be great for startups, but that there are no suitable TV shows to riff off of. Wrong. Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares is the perfect show for analyzing startups. I did that about two years ago in my post An MBA in Gordon’s Kitchen. Enjoy.
  5. Lest you get the idea that this blog is all about dyspeptic analysis of TV shows, some expectation-setting is in order. This blog has no real focus and wanders all over the place from container ships to art. I do a lot of book reviews.
  6. About the only constants are that most of my posts are long (~1500-2000 words) and that I try pretty hard to find a fresh angle on anything I decide to write about. A process to which I attach the grandiose label “experiments in refactored perception.”  I post about 1-2 times a week.
  7. And oh yeah, this blog has a mascot, Skeletor the Cat. Probably as good an explanation of what this blog is about as any.
  8. There are also a bunch of other trails to help you explore the blog, which you can find by clicking “Trails” on the top menu.

Responses to “Gervais Principle” Comments

  1. Thank you, all those who said all those flattering things ranging from “Brilliant!” to “post of the year.” Blush blush.
  2. I am honestly rather surprised that so many people are so deeply into The Office. And that so many people got the idea without having watched the show.
  3. There is too much in the comments for me to absorb/respond to right now. I’ll do some focused responses this weekend.
  4. I haven’t yet thought through how (or if) I want to do sequels, but since you guys have massively inflated expectations here, I’ll give it a shot over the next few months. My first thought is detailed character dissections (esp. Jim and Toby), but better surgical tools will probably suggest themselves as I absorb the comments. If you can think of good alternative angles, please post your suggestions.
  5. Most of my long straggling sequences take several months to finish, since I have too much ADD to work on one series at a time. So you’ve been warned. Don’t expect Parts II through V in the next week or something. I’ll probably work on this theme more frequently if enough of you stick around for more than one visit.
  6. Book recos: those of you who want to get into this stuff seriously, I strongly recommend Images of Organization and The Organization Man. Well worth the investment. I plan to review the former sometime this year, and am doing an ongoing multi-part trail on the latter. For more heavy-lift reading, add Seeing Like a State.
  7. If you don’t have the patience to read big fat books, fine, I’ll do my best to entertain you with my mind-candy versions :).
  8. One interesting vein of comments was about contractors, free agents and the like. I write about this stuff a lot (and less darkly). I think in this model, they’d be 1-person-company sociopaths. I’ll have to think about this more though, since some free agents are in that lifestyle out of choice, and know how to exploit their more precise sense of their own market value (due to liquidity), and others crave the security of a fixed paycheck.
  9. In case it was not clear, the post was meant to be descriptive, not prescriptive. As some of you understood, I also think this is about as good as it gets, and that this is not a bad thing.
  10. In case it was not clear, I am personally very sympathetic to sociopaths, as defined in the model (i.e. “will to power” Darwinist types of the sort William Whyte also admired, or to put it more simply, pragmatic realists). I am personally probably a sociopath at the moment. This does not mean I am sympathetic to sociopaths in the everyday sense of kitten-murdering psychos and Hitler types.

p.s. “Trails” is a technology developed by my team at Xerox, currently in beta. It comprises a plugin called WordTrails used to create the trails on this blog, and a destination site currently in invitation-only beta.  You can find out more here. We are kinda in stealth mode right now and haven’t really kicked off the PR yet, so I won’t comment more. But social media types are welcome to explore and experiment.

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About Venkatesh Rao

Venkat is the founder and editor-in-chief of ribbonfarm. Follow him on Twitter


  1. What about the applicability of these S-C-L phenomena to the org that makes the TV series? I witnessed something like that on a tiny scale (skit parodying managers, performed by some at a corporate event). I felt some of them tried too hard to be seen laughing loudly.

  2. NBC studios…? Not sure actually. The “Hollywood model” of movie-making has of course become the textbook example of un-organization (team of free agents coming together together around an oasis of money provided by a major studio, creating, and then disbanding, without providing too much time for the clueless to ossify the beast). I’d say that kind of virtual/transient firm has less of a chance to develop the pathologies since it is designed to self-destruct within a year or two.

    TV shows are a different beast though, since they persist much longer, and studios are more involved (I would guess). Still the premise of organizational mortality operates there too. A bold conjecture might be that “to avoid the S-C-L pathologies as much as possible, it is necessary and sufficient that an organization be aware of, and plan around, its own planned mortality.” The root of a lot of pathologies I suspect, arises from organizations thinking they’ll be around forever. Or effectively forever, like Hitler’s 1000 year reich.

    I guess shows like 30 Rock do give you a bit of a look behind the scenes (Alec Baldwin’s character on that is a good sociopath, while Tina Fey is a good overachieving loser… but I haven’t watched enough of the show to be sure).

  3. I meant team when I sloppily said “org”. Long-running serials are more susceptible than movie project teams assembled on demand for a limited purpose and duration.

    Your conjecture has a lot going for it. For a while the buzz phrases, “cross-functional”, “self-managed” and “virtual teams” were popular and this practice does continue to operate successfully within corporate environments.

  4. Hey, just so you know your original post is often down due to heavy traffic. I copied it here: http://docs.google.com/View?id=dfbkggsv_192gs6xd6g8

    Great post! Keep up the good work!

  5. Hal O'Brien says

    “Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares is the perfect show for analyzing startups.”

    Yes. Yes. Yes. Especially since so many start-ups are restaurants.

    It’s worth noting, though, that Ramsay is also the ur-image of McKinsey-style consultants.