Tempo Glossary

Some of these definitions are direct quotes from the book, but many are not. In the latter case, the definitions here are implicit in the treatment in the book. This is an evolving document and more definitions will be added as the discussion around the book evolves. You can find a term in the alphabetical index or simply scroll down to browse definitions by chapter. Please email me with any corrections and suggested additions.

Alphabetical Index

Authoritarian High Modernism
Calculative Rationality
Cheap Trick
Closed World
Conceptual Metaphor
Context switching
Coup d’œil
Decision Pattern
Deep Story
Double Freytag Triangle
Enactment Style 
Externalized Mental Model
Field-Flow Complex
Fox and Hedgehog
Freytag Staircase
Freytag Triangle
Going with the flow
Heavy Lift
Liminal Passage
Mental Model
Modal Logic
Narrative Entropy
Narrative Rationality
Narrative Time
Natural Behavior
Open World
Possible World
Separation Event
Situation Awareness
Social Field
Temporal Interval Calculus
Theory of Situation
Universal Tactic


Chapter 1: Introduction

Tempo: The set of characteristic rhythms of decision-making in the subjective life of an individual or organization, colored by associated patterns of emotion and energy.

Chapter 2: A Sense of Timing

Situation Awareness: The perception of environmental elements within a volume of time and space, the comprehension of their meaning, and the projection of their status in the near future (definition due to Mica Endsley).

Context-switching: The process of exiting one situation and entering another, and losing/gaining situation awareness in the from and to domains respectively.

Going with the flow: Simplifying decision-making by operating at the same tempo as the environment, and accepting default settings for most decisions.

Pace-setting: Harmoniously driving the natural tempo of your environment away from its current state and towards your preferred state – slower or faster – in non-disruptive ways.

Pace-disruption: Making decisions in ways that disrupt the tempo of the environment and cause strong emotional reactions in the decision-maker and environment.

Temporal Interval Calculus (TIC) : A method for representing time using intervals and the relationships among them, devised by AI research James Allen in the early 80s.

 Chapter 3: Momentum and Mental Models

Mental Model: A dynamic, unstable and partially coherent set of beliefs, desires and intentions held together by narratives that weave through the current realities, possible histories and possible futures of a situation.

Momentum: The property of mental models that lends them inertia and makes it hard to change the tempo of decision-making. Tempo-driven decision-making is mainly about managing the momentum of mental models.

Possible World: A technical term in philosophy and logic, used informally in Tempo to mean a what-if scenario and/or a possible reading of past events as a history.

Belief-Desire-Intention (BDI): A model of practical reasoning developed by Stanford researcher Michael Bratman in Intention, Plans and Practical Reason and the basis for the definition of mental model in Tempo

Modal Logic: A special kind of logic used by philosophers and logicians to reason about possible worlds. In addition to the usual existential and universal quantifiers used in traditional logic, modal logic has special qualifiers to help talk precisely about possible worlds.

Enactment: The part of your active mental model is becoming real, or enacted, as time progresses.

Theory of Situation: A foundation for classes of possible worlds, rather like the premises of a story. It encompasses a relatively small subset of the beliefs, desires and intentions in play, woven together more tightly than the story as a whole. There is more logic to the weave, and key unknowns and conflicts are more clearly evident.

Doctrine: A basic sets of beliefs and desires relevant to decision-making. Doctrines often include strong beliefs about momentum management.

Archetype: A mental model of a person, often expressed in artistic/literary ways, capturing the essence of the individual’s decision-making personality. It is also useful to keep in mind a definition from Jennifer von Bergen, “an archetype is the imprint of a pattern of human behavior” (from Archetypes for Writers).

Fox and Hedgehog: A classic pair of archetypes due to Isaiah Berlin.

Dialectic: A framework for understanding how social processes create and apply notions of truth through debate. Socratic, Hegelian, Vedantic, postmodern and Zen models of argumentation are examples. Dialectics can also operate inside your head, as in one of the notions of jihad in Islam. Material dialectics help think about how mental models interact with reality.

Chapter 4: Narrative Rationality

Calculative rationality: The classical approach to decision-making, based on goals, plans, utilities and means-end reasoning methods. Calculative rationality does not usually encompass mental models, background narratives or situational tempo.

Narrative rationality: 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. Narrative rationality is a generalization of calculative rationality and is broadly defined to subsume it.

Deep Story: A special kind of enactment that occurs during an episode of creative destruction that is significant enough to transform you. The transformation is a rebirth of greater or lesser magnitude. Deep stories create significant new mental models in extremely new situations that demand open-world learning.

Liminal Passage: A brief interlude of metaphysical questioning, a sense of emptiness and deep existential musing that occurs between the waning of one deep story and the waxing of another. To qualify as a deep story, an enactment must begin and end with a liminal passage.

Coup d’œil: Literally “strike of the eye.” See Cheap Trick.

Narrative Entropy: An informal notion of the degree of chaos and dissonance in a mental model or enactment. This term is not used in the book, but is included here to clarify discussions. It may be included in a future edition.

Freytag Triangle: A classic model of the evolution of dramatic tension in storytelling, based on classical Greek theater, and codified by Gustav Freytag in the 19th century.

Monomyth: A model of a narrative pattern commonly found in popular mythologies around the world developed by Joseph Campbell. The model is based on Jungian ideas and is often criticized for its overwrought metaphoric character.

Double Freytag Triangle: A model of narratives developed in Tempo and based on the Freytag triangle and Monomyth. It is intended as a prototypical example of a deep story, and is depicted visually by the following diagram.

Exploration: A phase of increasing entropy in the early stages of a narrative modeled by the Double Freytag.

Cheap Trick: In the Double Freytag model, the moment when a key insight turns around the trajectory of increasing entropy in a deep story. A cheap trick follows the exploration phase. The notion of cheap trick is essentially identical to Clausewitz’ notion of coup d’oeil (strike of the eye). Cheap tricks provide elegant, organizing insights that allow a decision-maker to make temporary and local sense of a high-entropy mental model. Cheap tricks also provide a window of opportunity for high-leverage decision-making.

Sense-Making: The narrative-entropy-lowering phase of a Double Freytag which follows a cheap trick.

Valley: A phase of initially rapid, and then slowing momentum development, eventually followed by a return to increasing entropy in a Double Freytag. The valley follows the sense-making phase.

Heavy Lift: An intense effort designed to move a Double Freytag to resolution and closure, that follows the valley. The heavy lift increases narrative entropy.

Separation Event: The moment when a significant proportion of the newly created mental model, along with its momentum, is externalized into the environment, as your act of creative destruction.

Retrospective: the phase during which the decision-maker, if he or she has survived the separation event, attempts to return to the beginning state undergoing as little subjective change as possible, and receiving only an objective, externalized reward. In this phase, the decisionmaker’s doctrine is also revised, to reflect the morals of the deep story just experienced. The deep story itself, as a memory, is cast into its final stable form, in a way that validates the revised doctrine.

Freytag Staircase: A view a life narrative as a string of deep stories, with each successive liminal passage being, on average, a little higher than the previous one. The difference between the initial and final liminal passages in a deep story embedded within the staircase can be interpreted equally well as doctrinal growth, or decay.

Narrative Time: A notion of time as something that gets structured by the things we actually put into it. Unlike the “container” metaphor of event time, narrative time is not even, uniform and bidirectional. Unlike clock time, it is not structured by a regular oscillatory process. Loosely, narrative time is time viewed as an information flow rather than a dimension.

Closed World: A world well-described by models in which pre-defined things exist, and only events that have been modeled can happen.

Open World:  A world that requires that we constantly update our mental models to accommodate phenomena that we haven’t encountered before. The open world is a world that includes what Donald Rumsfeld called “unknown unknowns” and Nicholas Nassim Taleb calls “black swans” (rare, highly consequential events).

Closed World: A world well-described by models in which pre-defined things exist, and only events that have been modeled can happen.

Chapter 5: Universal Tactics

Conceptual Metaphor: A conceptual metaphor is a systematic structuring of meaning in one domain in terms of our understanding of another domain. The idea of conceptual metaphor was developed by Lakoff and Johnson in Metaphors We Live By.

Natural Behavior:  A rudimentary, hard-wired behavior that has evolved primarily to handle unknown risks and open-ended learning. They help bootstrap mental models and usually incorporate an element of randomness.

Universal Tactic: An abstract action based on a fundamental conceptual metaphor that draws from a domain of common experience such as space or material objects.

Decision Pattern: A common pattern of universal tactics. Decision patterns can be reactive, deliberative, opportunistic or procedural. 

Enactment Style: The combination of a domain-specific aesthetic of action with a doctrine, as exhibited in behaviors in a specific domain.

Epoch: A narrative-time period of indefinite length, characterized by a consistent enactment style.

OODA: Observe-Orient-Decide-Act. A model of decision-making due to John Boyd. In terms of the framework of ideas in Tempo, OODA can be understood as a meta-enactment style that is applicable in many domains.

Chapter 6: The Clockless Clock

Externalized Mental Model: Parts of reality arranged to conform to the structure of an internal mental model.

Codification: Expressing part of the meaning of a mental model in a form that can be manifested in material terms.

Embedding: Creating physical consequences that endure, from a codified mental model. Codification and embedding together constitute externalization.

Communication: Creating mental models related to your own in another mind.

Legibility: For the purposes of Tempo, a piece of physical reality is legible to the extent that it is obviously the product of coherent human agency, a deliberate externalization of a mental model. The idea is due to James Scott, author of Seeing Like a State. For a more nuanced exploration see A Big Little Idea Called Legibility.

Meaning: The interpretation of a legible environment in the context of a given mental model.  All meaningful environments are legible to a corresponding extent, but not all legible environments are meaningful to every observer. This is related to David Allen’s definition of organization as “where something is, is related to what it means to you” in Making it All Work. 

Taylorism: The philosophy of organization of environments and work propounded by Frederick W. Taylor in The Principles of Scientific Management in 1919. It is the source of much of modern organizational theory and management practice.

Authoritarian High Modernism: Scott’s term (see Legibility) for the governing aesthetic of Taylorist system-process approaches to externalization of mental models.

Field: An arrangement of the physical environment. A field is the structural part of an externalized mental model. It is a generalization of the Taylorist notion of system.

Flow: A behavior that results when humans interact with a field. Flows are the observable parts of others’ enactments, within a field. It is a generalization of the Taylorist notion of process. 

Field-Flow Complex: A generalization of the idea of systems and processes to include emotions, energy patterns and rhythms generated by flows in a given field.

Social Object: A physical or digital object that catalyzes social interaction.

Social Field: A field whose primary elements are people and social objects.