Formula 1 and The Glass Bead game

April 11, 2017


The wondrous striving for innovation in Formula 1 racing suggests a modern version of the Glass Bead game in Herman Hesse’s masterpiece and the answer to the question ‘what’s the use of a baby?’

The idea struck me as I admired the unfolding story of the Chinese F1 Grand Prix race recently. Such effort, courage, innovation, political intrigues, strategy. Many ingredients for an MBA elective, I thought.

Then I asked myself the dangerous existential question, what’s the point of it all? At the back of my mind, I dimly recalled the question “what’s the point of electricity?” asked of Michael Faraday, who allegedly replied “what’s the use of a baby?

A little research suggested that my memory had accessed an urban scientific myth. Among other versions, Ben Franklin replied to the question “what’s the use of a ballon?” with a similar answer. Among other unconfirmed replies is another on the subject of the use of his electrical ‘toys’. I cannot say the use, he is alleged to have replied, but I can guarantee that one day you will be able to tax them.

For whatever reason, challenging the purpose of Formula One also reminded me of Herman Hesse’s classic, The Glass Bead Game. The book is set in the future, where the highest of human achievements are conducted in a province dedicated to the life of the mind. Students are all male [a point worth noting]. The pursuit of knowledge involves devoting one’s life to studying and playing the complex Glass Bead game, which I think of as multi-dimensional Go and Chess.

The central character is Knecht. Like much of the book, the name has subtle references, in this instance to Knight (which linguistically relates also to Servant). His journey to enlightenment and to becoming Magister Ludi (Lord of the Game) is traced. An important theme is the value of a community closed off from the outside world.

This question increasingly disturbs Knecht, as his path unfolds. He reaches a personal crisis and leaves the boundaries of the closed province to serve in the outside world. There are several embedded levels of story at work as the book reaches not so much a conclusion as with a necessary incompleteness. At one level, the story ends with the death of Knecht. The narrator asserts there is far more which cannot be told.

It is not difficult to re-examine Formula One through the lens of The Glass Bead Game. The provinces set aside for the pursuit of the FI game co-exist with regions of the outside world, but isolated from them. The boundaries are fixed in time and space for the practice sessions and for the games themselves. Players are admitted from lower level disciplines, F2 being the next highest.

Rules are strictly administered, but as in Glass Bead contests, no two games are identical. Over time, the dedication of industrious and dedicated players enriches the game. Many innovations occur. Sometimes the argument is used that the innovations enrich the well-being of the world outside by modifications to everyday automobiles, making them safer, more energy efficient, so therefore more environmentally efficient. One enterprising group of medical researchers was grant funded to study the efficiency of in-race pit-stop team work, to transfer the knowledge to the logistics in operating theatres.

These arguments would not calm the moral concerns of an F1 Joseph Knecht aware of the general lack of enthusiasm in Glass Bead racing for changes away from clean energy use, or for reducing pollution visited on cities around the world hosting the games. A similar case for real-world gains from the space-exploration Bead Game ended in the weak claim that the intellectual efforts produced the non-stick frying pan. [For the record, the reverse causality has also been suggested for space exploration.]

Electric cars in F1 seem an oxymoron, as their silence is anathema to the tradition of the sport, and a regression from the ultimate purity demanded by initiates and Magister Ludi alike. Revolutionaries dreaming of F1 pioneering electric cars, are being urged to replace the silence with the traditional throaty roar of petrol engines.

These dystopic thoughts of mine cannot conceal the appeal of the wonderful Glass Bead game which is the Formula One enterprise. The lengthy years of rule by Bernie Ecclestone as Magister Ludi seem to be drawing to a close. Whether a Joseph Knecht figure will emerge as new leaders remains open, like the end of Hesse’s masterpiece.

I turn my attention to another ivory tower question I have heard from time to time, in business school workshops. ‘What’s the use of an MBA?‘  As Benjamin Franklin might or might not have said, ‘I cannot tell you exactly, but I guarantee you will be taxed on your earnings from it, one day‘.

Concepts and Pragmatism: Applying original thinking in a Manchester Method way

February 12, 2015

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Vikram Madineni

Applying theory to find practical solutions in professions like engineering is well-known.  The Manchester Method approach in the field of management comes from  applying the learning in one’s professional life and, leveraging trust and current experiences.


The Global MBA program at Manchester Business School gave me a platform to self-reflect and grow professionally, to learn the importance of communication and also to shape my future goals and ambitions

Personal Growth

I encountered many of the nuances of business management early in my professional life, but at first I had a hard time relating to decisions being made from a professional and personal perspective.

The dynamic nature of the Global MBA course work, diversity of people, need for team collaboration and applying theoretical frameworks to understand “why” and “how” part of the decisions, all have shaped my personal growth over the last 18 months.

The focus on teamwork is paramount and there is a regular need to improvise based on dynamics of team members. I have dramatically improved my group negotiation and implementation strategies. For this, I owe much to the information exchange with other students in multiple workshops across countries and partly to the self-reflection of my creativity reports.

By using theoretical frameworks of economics, marketing, operations, accounting, and leadership when answering individual assignments, I gained a better perspective of various factors influencing decisions being made within my own organization.

Manchester Method

The emphasis on “managerial oriented” application of concepts rather than academic discussions has been advocated in all courses. I got a better understanding of the principle after receiving feedback for my final marketing assignment. My thorough research was appreciated, as was required in an MBA course, but both examiners explained the importance of also arriving at practical solutions that could benefit the company.

In the induction session the program director [mention name] explained the importance of networking, teamwork, the value of working within a diverse cohort and building relationships.

This has been an enriching experience and it has helped me to manage assignments and projects in a more efficient and productive fashion.

Chartering the future – Social Responsibility

I dreamed of being an entrepreneur since I graduated from college and I got a new perspective after reading an inspirational book about the TOMS company written by Blake Mycoskie – Start Something That Matters.

I chose the book for my leadership assignment and published a post about TOMS and its CSR in Leaders We Deserve.

Around the same time, I became aware of the amazing work being undertaken by the Gates Foundation and within my own company, Ingersoll Rand, in providing opportunities to serve a social cause. I was inspired and motivated to change but also identified the lack of management experience in handling strategy or operational needs of social organizations.

Johnson. W (2012), “Disrupt Yourself”, discusses the concept of disrupting oneself to stay ahead or charting one’s profession career.

I embraced the opportunity to do the Global MBA program, and over the last year I have opportunities to learn and understand the business system at a functional and a strategic perspective. As I progressed through my learning I gained knowledge in operations excellence and insights of marketing for a non-profit organization.

I had to do considerable amount of research on TOMS for my leadership and marketing course assignments. I gained a deeper understanding and need to embrace social responsibility; and also the power of words, advertisement of conscious consumers, and era of storytelling successful companies. I discussed this concept with our company’s marketing team to rethink branding and customer connectivity. We needed a story; a story that connects with our customers and makes them our passionate advertisers.

Original Thinking Applied

One of the most enjoyable workshops and one that I can vividly recall is the Accounting workshop! Marketing, Operations, CIB and all other workshop assignments helped me to gain a deeper understanding of the fundamentals but Accounting was very focused on one particular aspect of the organization or situation. I probably have never spent 6-8 hours analyzing just 3 sheets of papers before, the Balance Sheet, Cash Flow and Income Statements! It was a workshop in which I truly realized the potential of applying the thinking – understanding what financial ratios really mean, challenging whether the numbers are really telling a true story, what should the company or an investor be looking for.

Our group spent hours endorsing and debating each other perspective. I remember our professor being intrigued by the new metrics and ratios that we identified and how we linked them with a balanced score-card strategy. The level of analysis and realization of the importance of certain metrics all helped my immensely in applying the learnings in the business simulation course.

The business simulation course was another opportunity to bring all our learnings together for the first time and I enjoyed the challenge of managing and competing against my peers. Managing finances, building on equity, improving net margins, borrowing cheaper capital were all a result of application of deep analysis of the company’s financial statements and the market. This was also an opportunity for us to apply the concepts of strategy, adapt dynamically to market changes and build a road map for the future profitability. This gives me confidence in my ability to manage business operations in certain roles like strategic integrator, program manager in companies like TOMS or Gates Foundation.


My perspectives on definition of leadership have gradually changed over the course of my student and professional life. Growing up, my father was a leader for me; responsible, knowledgeable, humble and passionate. I inculcated lot of those values and owe my growth to his leadership skills as a parent. My views on leadership skills expanded during my career at Ingersoll Rand while working with my peers and my manager. We were now in a dynamically changing environment and it was educating to understand the need for a leader to find a “balance” – compassion and setting expectations, leading and allowing to lead, teaching and allowing to learn and most important of all humility and approachability.

The Manchester MBA program has expanded my horizon further on leadership traits and I was introduced to the concept of Servant Leadership. The ability to build a vision and then inspire and influence people to adopt and engage is truly a remarkable skill set. In this era of social consumerism the ability to reach out to people who are remote and influence their decisions is a differentiating attribute of the new generation leader.

The new era of conscious consumers and employees is suited in supporting and associating with a leader who is empathetic and is committed to social responsibility.


MBA School swims into view: A fishy tale from Miami

January 16, 2011

Maybe it was jet-lag. There was something very MBA-like about the fish in the aquarium displayed in the coffee shop of the Courtyard Marriot…

A cohort of brightly-coloured creatures, moving to some kind of plan. All different. All rather special and carefully-selected, no doubt. Perhaps put together because they get on well as a team (or do I mean a shoal, or a school?). Well looked after.

The Miami Business Aquarium

Then a larger fish swims into my view at the Miami Business Aquarium “That’s a director fish” I thought.

Susan finished a third capuccino

They are very soothing” she said.

I think she was referring to the fish not the coffee…

Note to non-fishy MBAs

While this post may suggest something interesting about the author’s mental maps, it is probably not suited for study if you have been asked to ‘write a blog post in the style of LWD’.

How to sell a good idea, and not shoot yourself in the foot

September 29, 2008
Liz Strauss

Liz Strauss

You have an idea. You want to influence someone, or maybe an audience to take the idea seriously. You will have less time than you think to achieve that vital first impression

It is often said that in business, you are not selling your idea, you are selling yourself. Like most maxims, there is a grain of truth in that. It is particularly important if you are in a competitive situation, and have not met your audience before. MBA Elevator pitches, speed dating, and strictly come dancing formats come to mind. Even those ’round the table’ introductions deserve more pre-planning than they usually receive.

It takes the briefest of times before most people arrive at those important first impressions. Being aware of that is a vital element for effective leadership. The fine lines between over-selling and under-selling require careful management.

Here’s one of the best and simplest elaborations of what to do. The author, Liz Strauss, certainly sold her idea to me.

According to her own account , she was ‘always shooting herself in the foot’. Then she figured out a better way. Here what she decided was going wrong, and what she did about it.

I need to know what I do before I can tell someone else. My fear of self-promotion was turning me into someone else.

I picked the three things I love doing most. I wrote a sentence about each one and what my participation brought to that kind of work.
Those three sentences are what I want to do and what I do well. When someone ask me that same question now, I have those three sentences in my head. I can choose one or all and choose to elaborate on them or not. No longer am I trying to figure out what someone wants or needs to hear. I simply answer the question with what I know is a fact. I’m relaxed and I no longer limp away from conversations that start with “What do you do?” You don’t need three sentences. You really only need one that is uniquely you.

Great advice. Prepare that vital sentence until it is part of you. That is to say until you believe in what you are saying. And what you are saying captures briefly and memorably the idea. What’s different about it. What’s important about it. Why it deserves special attention.

Meat first or one-minute fuse?

That doesn’t mean to say there is only one way of presenting an idea or making a successful pitch. Each speaker has a comfort-zone according to his or her personal style.

However, unless you are a consumate professional you risk shooting yourself in the foot if you don’t get the point across within two minutes at most.

The meat-first approach is the one which starts with the polished statement. Let’s call it the punch-line or idea title. Note that creativity is required both for the technical quality of the idea and for its presentation.

The one-minute fuse approach is one in which you take a minute but not much longer building-up to the punch-line. It helps if you are skillfully signalling that a punchline is not far away (study how your favorite comedians do this. Then, with appropriate emphasis, you deliver the punch-line.

You may not have the experience of a professional performer, but everyone can work on their performance.

More complex presentations

These principles can be applied to more complex presentations, with more than one presentor and with more than two minutes for the pitch. For example, if you have been alloted ten minutes, you need at least one more punchline just before the presentation comes to an end. (I leave you to decide what you need from each individual speaker).

So good luck.

Why not let subscribers to Leaderswedeserve know how you did?