The Apprentice – 10 years of discount buying (Episode 9)

Apprentice episode 11
Published December 4, 2014

Picking over the bones

This week I find myself enraged by The Apprentice.  Never before, over countless series, has the outcome of an episode seemed so unfair.

Here is the scenario, one candidate shows initiative, creativity and intelligence, finding a before un-thought-of solution to a problem.  The second runs around like a headless chicken, trying to find a headless Kosher chicken, shows poor leadership and strategy, and misses the deadline.  Which one goes?  Yep, that’s right, the first one.

This week found teams Tenacity and Summit undertaking the perennial buying task, the aim of it being to test a candidates planning, logistical and negotiating skills.  Given this task appears every year, what better opportunity is there over the series for candidates to actually think about their strategy in advance.  They could learn from the mistakes of previous series, and plan their approach accordingly.  And this year even more so, given that the items on the list were ones that have appeared in previous series.  You would think anyway – but it didn’t really go that way.

Team leaders this week were Sanjay and Daniel.  Daniel bulldozed his way into the role, overriding Katie’s and Mark’s suggestions that they were the ideal people for this task.

Sanjay’s strategy was to sit tight, phone around to source the items, and then get on the road.  A good idea perhaps, but 2 ½ hours later they were getting nowhere, as Roisin ignored Bianca’s repeated suggestions that diamonds would best be found in Hatton Garden.  Once on the road, things didn’t get much better, with a complete lack of strategy, highlighted particularly by the random driving past a “shop” (what was it?) with a skeleton in the window.  The phrase ‘busy fools’ sprung to mind.  There was one small glimmer of hope in the group, when Bianca used the fact that Summit were behind Tenacity at a reclamation yard to get a better discount than they did.  And she did it again in the hunt for the skeleton; whilst Solomon messed around with “Stanley’s” detachable jaw, Bianca effectively negotiated down on the price.

Daniel’s team, Tenacity, performed well throughout the task.  They got every item (which, as Lord Sugar pointed out, had not been done before).  Daniel showed Drive throughout the day, motivating his team (albeit appearing slightly insincere at times) and getting them all back to the Boardroom with minutes to spare.  And it all seems so promising, until Lord Sugar presented the skeleton and things fell apart.  Watching the programme, it appeared that Tenacity were going to be rewarded for, well, their tenacity, and for Filipe’s creativity (and minor pedantry) buying a paper skeleton to meet the description of what was required.  The decision to disallow it seemed petty, a perception which was compounded by Lord Sugar also highlighting that the rope they had obtained was 0.7 metres too long.  This quibbling, which ultimately resulted in Tenacity losing, left me wondering what on earth this episode told us about business.  Lord Sugar’s criticism that Filipe was trying to be “too clever” seemed an odd message about what AMS1 values in potential business partners.

What then could we glean about leadership from this episode?  One thing struck me – that Daniel had survived four rounds of being in the final three.  And what got him through?  As Filipe said, in this episode he “became a man, and showed us he learned something”.  For the vast majority of the task it appeared that he had learned, he seemed to be dealing well with his team, there was no arguing, and he held the task together.  The second thing was Drive; he pushed himself forward as leader and managed the team to get hold of every single item at a good price.  But things changed once it was clear the team had lost.  Daniel lost control of his emotions, which manifested itself in anger, and slightly oddly, in bizarrely animated ears.  It was also at this point that his values (or the lack thereof) came in to play, where decisions he had supported, namely Filipe’s idea about the skeleton, he then backed away from.  Despite congratulating Filipe several times for his ingenuity during the task, Daniel then “revealed” (or post hoc rationalised) that he had been feeling anxious about the skeleton all day.  Therefore, whilst both Drive and Learning (two key elements of a&dc’s LIVED Leadership Model) were in evidence, there are significant concerns over Daniel’s ability to control his Emotions and whether he actually has any Values.

Sanjay’s showed a lack of Learning (things were just not going well from the beginning, and he didn’t change his plan), Intellect (in the form of strategy), control of his Emotions and a lack of Drive.  His inability to manage his emotions came down more to a lack of focus and panic when things weren’t going to plan, and to excessive sweating and nervous laughing in the boardroom.  His lack of Drive was evidenced particularly when it was clear the team weren’t going to get back to the Boardroom in line with the deadline – you could see the defeat in his eyes.

What other lessons could be learned from this episode?  Well, maybe Lord Sugar could learn something about how to specify his requirements clearly.  Perhaps Filipe could help him with that?

Author: Philippa Riley

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