Friday, 24 October 2014


Yes.  T'Apprentice, as we call it in our house.  As if it's a Northern thing.  Why? Who knows.  We also invent stories about the life of the mysterious receptionist who sends the candidates into the boardroom with a cheery "Lord Sugar will see you now".  And what sort of receptionist has incredibly complicated project management Gantt charts open on their PC.  It's almost as if it was just an actress with a prop...

What was I saying.  Oh, yes, The Apprentice.  While it's fun to get annoyed at the idiocy of the contestants, and wonder why they do so spectacularly badly at many of the tasks, it strikes me that each episode is setup as an exercise in Sysyphian futility from the start.  We shouldn't be surprised that they get things wrong - we should be amazed if they ever get things right.

Let's break it down:

1.  The task itself

This is usually impossible.  "Create your own fragrance and market it in two days". "Create an original piece of home fitness equipment". "Create an innovative new wearable technology".  These (and other tasks) are all things that real companies spend months, if not years, and millions of pounds in R&D, testing and marketing, and still don't always get it right.  Yet we're supposed to mock these amateur business people (if you're a swimming instructor or a personal assistant, you're not really "in business", let's face it) for not getting it right, under pressure, in a competition, in 48 hours.

Lord Sugar might as well ask them to found an ethically-responsible bank, providing funding for hi-tech projects in the Indian sub-continent, with only £500 and a pop-up shop in Hoxton.

2.  The format

The teams are always split into two. One half does "market research" (usually asking one woman who owns a shop) and the other designs the product.  In real life you would do one, or the other, first.  Then use the output to feed into the other.  Forcing the sub-teams to do both simultaneously, without the opportunity to consult until afterwards (as it is obvious the producers do, otherwise, why wouldn't the project manager change the way they do it!) is a guarantee that you will end up with different requirements.

In the part of the show where they produce the products, they will have one team doing the manufacturing while the other does the marketing and packaging.  Again, it is structured so that one team doesn't know what the other is doing, until too late - surely the hand of the producers again, otherwise, why wouldn't at least one of the PMs have seen through this ruse - leading to a product which doesn't match the marketing (or vice versa).

3.  The blame game

This week's episode had the typical Apprentice blame-game hallmarks in a nutshell.  PM Roisin was blamed (by her colleagues, by Sugar, by Karren) for not setting realistic price points.  Yet the film showed her saying "don't sell for less than £25.  £20 minimum".  James was in a sub-team, miles away from the PM and only contactable by phone, conducted a fire-sale, selling for (on average) £8, yet Roisin was told she should have controlled him better.  How?  If it was a multi-day task she could have seen his performance at the end of the day and 'sacked' him, or bollocked him, but she wasn't given the chance to do that.  She only found out about his performance in the boardroom, at the same time as Lord Sugar. OK, she wasn't fired, but she was coruscated for her performance when, in real life, she would easily have had the chance to get rid of an underperforming colleague.

So, Nurun gets fired for being anonymous and ineffective.  Quite probably true.  But James lost them the task by completely disregarding his PMs instructions and "going rogue". But he can't be fired because he's a mouthy wide-boy, a big character, and what all TV shows need is big characters, regardless of whether they were actually the ones who deserved to be fired.

4. In summary

Anyone would think the whole thing was somehow being rigged and manipulated by shadowy figures behind the scenes...

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