Life in the fast lane
Business people are racing to learn from Formula One drivers
ON THE face of it business executives and Formula One drivers have nothing in common, other than the fact that they do their jobs sitting down. Racing drivers hurtle round a track, touching speeds of 350km an hour. Office-bound managers may occasionally wheel their chairs from one side of their desks to the other. Drivers risk a high-speed pile-up if they lose concentration. Executives merely risk spilling coffee on a Hermès tie.
Yet one of the motor-racing world’s gurus now spends much of his time talking to chief executives. Aki Hintsa, a Finnish surgeon, was chief medical officer for the McLaren F1 team for 11 years. His clients have included two former world champions, Sebastian Vettel and Mika Hakkinen, as well as Lewis Hamilton, the current holder. Dr Hintsa’s relationship with the business world started informally when a CEO friend turned to him in despair, complaining of burnout. His business, Hintsa Performance, employs 30 people, applying his methods from discreet offices in Geneva and Helsinki. It earns more than 80% of its revenues from working with management teams and individual bosses.
Can business people really learn from Formula One? Dr Hintsa argues that the two worlds have more in common than you might think. Drivers sit atop a pyramid of 500-700 employees, from engineers to marketing departments, whose livelihoods depend on them. Surrounded by sycophants, drivers can easily lose control of their egos. They live horribly peripatetic lives—races are run in every corner of the world. Dr Hintsa says that his grand-prix experience forced him to focus on two problems that also plague executives always on the move.
The first is lack of sleep. A growing body of evidence shows that shortage of shut-eye cripples individuals and poisons organisations. One study shows that staying awake for 20 hours has the same impact on the performance of various cognitive tasks as a blood-alcohol level of 0.1%, well over the limit for driving a car in most countries. Another study shows that being deprived of sleep leads people to adopt a more negative attitude or tone of voice. Employees are also more likely to report disengagement from work if a bad night’s sleep makes their bosses grouchy.
Yet sleep deprivation is commonplace in the business world—and is sometimes worn as a badge of honour. A recent survey of 196 business leaders by McKinsey, a management consultancy, revealed that 66% were dissatisfied with the quantity of sleep they got and 55% were dissatisfied with the quality.