TMBA 325: A Conversation With Ribbonfarm's Venkat Rao

TMBA325: A Conversation With Ribbonfarm’s Venkat Rao post image

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On this week’s show, Dan is speaking with Venkatesh Rao, author of RibbonFarm, a rich philosophy blog about technology, entrepreneurship, work structures and much more. He also recently launched an essay series called Breaking Smart, exploring the relationship between humanity and technology.

In a wide-ranging conversation Dan and Venkat talk about, amongst other things, the difference between a ‘business model’ and a ‘business philosophy; what Silicon Valley really thinks about bootstrapped start-ups; the danger of getting locked into ‘mental models’ of perceived knowledge and what it means to be power-literate.


Listen to this week’s show and learn:

  • How we can redefine our relationship with money. (4:23)
  • The difference between a being a Missionary and being a Mercenary. (12:02)
  • What “The Gervais Principle” is and how it applies to Lifestyle Designers. (19:10)
  • How you can hit the “Refresh Button” on your mental models. (39:51)
  • Venkash’s thoughts on work ethic and how he has been able to create such a strong output level in his writing. (51:37)

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Dan & Ian

Published on 02.25.16
  • Lot of great dovetails in this one. The “oh shit I have to comment on this” thing was Legibility though. I love when somebody fits a word or concept to something that I’ve felt for years in my bones. What’s the difference when you’ve lived in New York for a decade, but travel to another place, with different roots. You’re not plugged into the local ecosystem. You don’t have an instinct about people’s backstories. You can’t spot somebody on the subway and make an educated guess where they grow up, what they do for a living, and where they live. It’s opaque. It’s illegible. Internalize that feeling, and also the reasons for failure of the “top down” approach, and you see where and how things like get-rich-quick-in-this-very-specific-vertical-by-following-an-exact-script products and…just for instance…”pickup” techniques fail. Don’t Fight The Chaos;) I think the meta skill of being comfortable with illegibility and learning to work With it is one of the intangibles for entrepreneurship that Taylor’s getting at as well in EOJ. Just wish there were 10 identical podcasts or 10 episodes-a-week of this type to listen to. Nobody else is coming close to this level of depth.

  • Doug Gibbs

    I love it when I run into a happy coincidence. I finished the Gervais Principle two weeks ago and here is the author answering all my questions.
    It seems like when a Clueless person gets moved into the Sociopath role, when they retire to Bali, that is where many large company problems start. Anyone agree or no?

  • Wes Monk

    I’ve listened to every TMBA episode and this one particularly got my juices flowing. Great job Dan! I love the conversation about LARPing, opportunism, and the discipline demon.

  • The LuxPats

    God damn, that was good! Love the discussion around archetypes both in the corporate world and lifestyle design space. Keep doing what you do!

  • Insightful episode! I love the train tracks analogy. Never really considered how much Silicon Valley / VC startups gives us “lifestyle designers” the tools to have freedom, all while they are sitting in boardrooms getting beat up by their investors and board members while I sip on a coconut from wherever I want feel like being. ;)

  • lion

    TMBA is thee lifestyle entrepreneur platform and you guys are dropping knowledge like crazy. With this and the last episode it’s getting to the point where I listen to it multiple times over – the email list is also one of the few I remain subscribed to, and I appreciate the same platform mentality

    I’ve been meaning to look into RibbonFarm since the email a couple weeks ago; since this episode I’ve been reading the Gervais Principle – like everyone else, I’ve found it to ring true to my experiences in the workforce. Now, working closely with a business owner, Powertalk is something I’ve noticed and have been unconsciously adapting to. It’s nice to put a name to it, as well as the contemporary introduction to transactional analysis.

    I’m easing myself into a full time reader of RibbonFarm and I’d love to hear more of Rao going forward. On his end, it’s a great platform to introduce some of his more lengthy essays.

  • thanks lion glad you are digging it

  • :D

  • thanks it’s a good gig! :)

  • that’s great to hear Wes I appreciate it.

  • totally, i really think Venkat did that when he initially wrote this article:

    agree re: meta skill, no what’s the formula for that? :P

  • Evaldas Miliauskas

    completely sold on this one! First thing I did after listening is bought the book on Gervais Principle, just need to discipline myself to actually read it as the queue for reading just gets longer and longer heh.
    I think so far this was the longest episode you have put out and I completely understand why, there are so many topics that you touched on. My personal favorite one is the mental models we have on everything and its so true and at the same time very hard to be self aware of all of them. Just recently I heard that we are only aware on a good day only 3% of whats happening around us on a bad one only 2%. Having to filter out and actually master the skill to grasp the things that affect our well being is something that can be mastered all life easily…
    Also like that you put out the transcript as its easy to rewind some parts and deep dive into some idea. Listening for exploration, reading for concentration.
    Really excited about next episode as well, will be baller!

  • cheers Evaldas thanks for the comment and for listening! the transcripts are a new thing and we’re trying to do one for each episode going forward.

  • :D i’m not sure a clueless person could be moved into a sociopath role, they certainly will be done so often (for example, a board might move a well-meaning figurehead into a CEO position as a figurehead or fallperson, but I think the sociopath move is one you make on your own)

  • Really enjoyed the conversation around 41:30 about “drawing upside down”. This part (paraphrasing):

    “This is at the heart of how we engage reality in every aspect of life. There is sort of a right way of looking at things… when you look at things this way, you’re not seeing reality but your own projection onto reality. When you look at reality upside down, then you really begin to process.”

    …and your comment Dan about it challenging our identity. Venkat’s response – that this happens in non-threatening, everyday situations all the time – perhaps missed a point that it’s precisely those high pressure, identity-challenging situations which provide the necessary incentives for flipping the world on its head.

    Great episode!

  • thanks Dan I really enjoyed this one… that’s interesting, his response was certainly one I would not have predicted and he’s had me thinking ever since! gadfly mastery :D

  • Ian

    This is an excellent conversation Dan and Venkatesh. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I think it’s important and it’s a blessing that you take the time to do this.

    It’s interesting to see the movement from TMBA from being a step-by-step tool for indie business development to a more philosophical view of the macro environment.

    To the point -> “The artisan sensibility. You withdraw anything upsetting and you surround yourself with people who believe the same thing. You cut out news and ugly things you don’t want to process and you become a romantic coffee shop owner and failed entrepreneur. That’s not sustainable.” – (Not exact, but paraphrased accurately I think.)

    My question is for Venkatesh -> How do we define sustainable business?

    For example, say that coffee shop/organic farm lasts for 5 years and provides a few jobs and a lot of happy customers during that time. At what point do we differentiate between sustainable businesses and unsustainable businesses?

    Paypal is an example of a sustainable business right? …. or maybe BlockBuster. Well… Actually, I guess the most sustainable business today is Ford right? But they’ve only been around for 110 years. The Catholic Church isn’t really a business, but they might fit the bill the best. How do we define this?

    Thank you for the conversation. It really got me thinking.

  • thanks Ian glad you are digging it, seems like a lot of energized brain cells over here!

    It’s a good question!

  • Matthew Newton


  • yeah. dat pod.

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