The Apprentice Series 9


So another series of The Apprentice ends and, as my wife pointed out we said in 2012, I suspect (hope?) it will be my last. In the same way that Big Brother did, the show seems to have become a caricature of itself, straining each year to find more and more extreme candidates to put through the wringer.

I realised this morning that it’s like a business X Factor, but backwards – the sensible, possible winners with good business cases are clearly weeded out well before any of them get near a television camera, with the candidates who would normally feature in the early “comedy auditions” of one of Simon Cowell’s cash cows instead forming Lord Sugar’s 16-strong cohort of egomaniacs.

“Management” & “Leadership”

Jordan Poulton: Actually made sense

Jordan Poulton: Actually made sense

None of the candidates, all of whom claim to have run businesses and managed staff, seem capable of managing anything (people, processes, anything) and I doubt any of them would be able to lead a team of people down a straight, well lit corridor. The terms are frequently confused by the candidates, to say nothing of how can you effectively lead people who are in competition with you?

To call the element of the show where a candidate on each team is made responsible for organising their colleagues and achieving a particular goal “project management” is typically an insult to both Projects and Management. I don’t imagine actual project managers feature that highly in the show’s demographic breakdown – no one wants to end their Wednesday evenings picking bits of Risks & Issues log out of their TV.

The closest I’ve seen anyone come to actually managing in this season was Jordan (or Jason? they’re blurring already, anyway the one with the neckbeard) who pointed out that he organised his team based on strengths and managed the entirety of the project, rather than divvying it up and losing sight of part of the process. He won, but for not being front-and-centre selling he received a sound telling-off.

Rewarding bad behaviour, punishing good behaviour

Luisa Zissman: Exercise caution when image searching

Luisa Zissman: Exercise caution when image searching

Luisa. Oh good grief, Luisa. And poor, poor Jason.

Side note: Jason exists in my head like a kind of “Anti-Boris”, sporting some similar qualities to the London mayor, but with dark hair and none of the mojo or evil genius undertones. I can picture Boris sitting in a big chair and stroking a white cat menacingly. Jason would start stroking the cat, have an allergic reaction, sneeze and the cat would dig its claws into his groin. Then the chair would fall over.

I’ve mentioned how Jordan outlined a fairly sound approach for managing a task and was given a Lord Sugar verbal roundhouse. When Luisa spent an entire task effectively harassing Jason, the worst she had to suffer was the promise of some time with Karren Brady, something apparently one of my staff would love. I must remember to fire him. Meanwhile Jason, even as his positive qualities were being listed (nice chap, no unruly facial hair, awfully nice chap etc.), found himself the victim of Sugar’s pointing digit of doom.

In the real world, she’d have been shown the door. In Apprentice land, she made it to the final.

The Format

Perhaps the most fatal flaw in my view is the change in format. There are probably good reasons for moving away from the £100k job (when you’re in the House of Lords, employment tribunals are always going to be messy), but the £250k investment thing just doesn’t work. Especially when the tasks (to say nothing of the boardroom crowing from some of the candidates) haven’t moved far enough away from “Sell Lots of Stuff”.

Jason Leech: Sad puppy

Jason Leech: Sad puppy

What does being able to sell vegetables from a market stall have to do with any of the business cases we heard about in detail?

And why, why, WHY did we have to endure Jordan’s neckbeard all the way until the interviews at which point it was finally “discovered” it wasn’t eligible?

Another side note: While I have a fairly flexible “shaving schedule” for a mixture of practical reasons, if I was appearing in a series of interviews/assessments even I would make an effort and clean up, unlike many of the men who have appeared on The Apprentice over the years. Maybe razors are banned. Are they afraid of suicides? Or perhaps just murder?

Misrepresenting “business”

This is what really disappoints me – and leaves me wondering how much Lord Sugar really is in it for “business” and “entrepreneurialism”.

Could this just be Sugar paying quarter of a million to appear on TV for 3 months each year? The show dramatically misrepresents what the real world is like – both working for yourself and working for others. He is supposed to be a Labour peer, perhaps this is part of their cunning strategy to undermine the government’s supposed enterprise agenda and maintain high unemployment. I think I’d rather live on the breadline than having to work with any of those people. In fact, given their average profits in the tasks, I suspect I’d have a higher quality of living than them if I was on benefits.

The height of professionalism, according to The Apprentice

The height of professionalism, according to The Apprentice

You only have to compare the now scrapped Junior Apprentice with its adult counterpart to realise the extent of the show’s influence. You can’t put the pouting, bitching and cringe worthy backstabbing down to their youth – the adults are just as bad. This is what people are starting to think the real world is like, with teams a transient concept to be manipulated as part of a game, with personal agendas and “game plans” the order of the day.

Any camera crew that had to follow me around during my working life would pretty soon decide to spend all their time recording the ducks on the campus lake – anything rather than sit through my meeting load. The real world of work is mind numbing commutes, interminable meetings (although if you own your own business and don’t have employees they may be quick meetings), hurried lunches at your desk looking at Facebook and really far more email than you can ever imagine.

My working life obviously isn’t that bad, nor is it anything like The Apprentice’s view of the world, because instead of competing with colleagues, nipping at the heels of my superiors and belittling the people who work for me, I form positive working relationships. These relationships are the secret to getting things done, to say nothing of staying sane at work.

But reality, of course, makes for poor television.


One thought on “The Apprentice Series 9

  1. chroniclesofathirtysomething says:

    As to the meetings being short if you own your own business, just think of the flip side. Meetings may be short but they can occur at any time of day (usually when you’re trying to get to sleep or shouted through the bathroom door when you’re sat on the toilet) pick the most inconvenient time and inevitably its then!

    But I entirely agree with you on the Apprentice, it made hilarious watching and I could compare a lot of the behavior with the antics of T and H!

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