A Magician’s Guide To A B-School

“Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts.”

          Christopher Priest (The Prestige)

As goes this famous quote, perhaps made even more famous by Michael Caine’s beautiful rendition of John Cutter, life at b-school, at least from where I stand, is nothing more than exactly that – A magic trick! And like all great magic tricks, I shall try here to dissect, differentiate and designate these three stages or acts, if you will, of life at a b-school; transitioning from the ordinary to the extraordinary and then on to the “secret”!

ACT-I: The Pledge

“The first part is called “The Pledge”. The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course… it probably isn’t.”

The first act is the setup. Coming into a b-school, many with far-flung dreams of a generic utopia of sorts; not really knowing what to expect but having certain expectations all the same. It is in this melee of overwhelming emotions that we are introduced to this microcosm of a world that we have never seen before.

From an induction program designed to give you a taste of everyday life, to committee selections (and their several connotations) to that eventual grind of CV preparations, your first term in b-school is as eventful as it ever gets. And it is only at the very end of it all that it hits you that you’ve already spent three months in this place; Made new friends, learnt new subjects and ingrained a certain sense of comfort, which will in time allow you to call this place, “Home”!

ACT-II: The Turn

The second act is called “The Turn”. The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary.

The second act as Priest in his novel, so succinctly explains that when the magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. And herein lies the beauty or the crux of what most people assume life at b-school to be – The rolling out of the Internship Season!

Through endless months and sleepless nights of trying to correctly phrase that CV point, adept with the right action verbs, to getting on the end of that Group Discussion at 3 am, rummaging through tiring thoughts and weary eyes to put forward our opinions, to that final day when you’ve gone on to see your efforts turn to fruition- one, I believe, learns the most about oneself here.

And this is exactly what makes it so very extraordinary! It is here that you’ve for probably the first time been “tested”, so as to speak – akin to the real world- and have come out on top. And trust me that you have, because irrespective of whatever you consider as a material benchmark for your success, the real victory lies in that undying spirit, you’ve developed inside, that you remain consciously ignorant of.

ACT-III: The Prestige

Now you’re looking for the secret… but you won’t find it, because of course you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn’t clap yet. Because making something disappear isn’t enough; you have to bring it back. That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call “The Prestige”.”

The third and final act – effectively the hardest, as Priest describes, is “bringing it back”! It is here that the entire secret to the trick is both concocted and preserved. Being a fresher about to complete his first year at b-School, I recall a certain moment of epiphany I had whilst leaving college. I achieved perhaps a certain sense of having “grown-up” of sorts.

Now as the season of farewells and bidding adieus draws near, and as I see my seniors, my mentors, move on to that next phase in their lives, that feeling of maturity, of having “grown-up” just seems to be more reinforced. And I guess, this is where the entire crux of what a b-school teaches you is aggregated. It is not the subjects you’ve learned, or the placement you’ve been offered, or the money you shall go on to make in the future, but in the end, it all culminates in this sense of having grown-up.

I guess that is why an MBA is not simply a degree; it is an emotion, if you will!