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The Apprentice Week 3 – getting serious

Hey Sralan that must be a bl**dy big box you're on

Hey Sralan that must be a bl**dy big box you're on

The Apprentice Week 3 – getting serious

Damn. It’s so much more fun to take the p*ss. OK there was the usual playground bully hubris from Ben “I’m the best looking man here” Clarke; and routine autocratic obscenity from Debra “I’m the f**cking Project Manager” Barr. James McQuillan’s verbal diarrhoea continues though thankfully we were spared TMI (too much information) about similar incontinence at the other end of his body this week.

Week 3 had some elements of what this show could be far more often: challenging, interesting and a genuine test of imagination and talent. First the task was a worthwhile one and actually brought out some imaginative thinking that then had to be realised in a physical product that people might want to buy.

Not only did the now mixed Ignite and Empire teams have a good crack at a real challenge; but the Ignite team, starting the Body Rocka from scratch actually produced a fascinating, effective, innovative fitness device that not only worked but looked funky and had that ‘wanna-buy’ quality. Proof of the pudding was John Lewis’ order for 10,000 units at 15 quid a pop + exclusivity for a few months. Last time an Apprentice offered exclusivity Sralan went ape and sacked her. The downside was not discussed this time which is a bit inconsistent and the Ignite team nearly blew the deal through not anticipating the question.

With the 20/20 vision of hindsight everyone, especially Sralan, talked as if it was obvious from the very start that the Empire Team’s Bingo Buster was total crap. There is something totally unfair about the Apprentice every week even though it’s a different thing every week. This week when the product – concept, design and realisation, were clearly going to be the whole BOW (ball of wax), both teams were in the hands of the designers who gave their concepts physical form. While one may say that especially Ben “technically Kimberley’s obese” Clarke over-specified the design brief, it is pretty clear that the designers of the Body Rocka based upon Ignite’s spec were absolutely top notch. It is odd, given how critical this phase of the project was that we saw virtually nothing of the process in either case. There was a pretty big leap from what we heard of Ignite’s basic ideas to the finished product, whereas Empire’s designers seem to have simply ‘made to order’. We have seen before that it is a critical business skill to ‘manage’ the professional design team and this was the winning component of this week’s task. We have also seen before good designers turning Apprentices’ straw ideas into gold products.

So I’m not convinced that the knock-down win for Ignite might not be the result of having a better professional design team. True Ben “I’m the f**ucking greatest” might well have got up the nose of his designers so much that they thought – “well he knows it all so let’s give the prat exactly what he’s asked for”. They didn’t even put a handle on the Bingo Buster later referred to as the ‘box-of-death’ on the You’re Fired programme. Good name as it looked a bit like a cross between a model electric chair and a peripatetic S&M kit. But the analysis by Big Ben and the team of the range of things they wanted the BB to be able to be used for was on the ball and relevant. What they lacked was the inspired idea behind the Body Rocka which was that as a half ball base with a flat double-winged grasping surface, the inherent challenge of keeping this stable as you went through the exercises meant not only that it was a skill challenge but most importantly that the process of maintaining control of the thing required considerable isometric (static) muscle control which of course lay at the heart of the most famous body-building process ever marketed, the Charles Atlas system. But isometric exercises are incredibly boring and demotivating whereas the Body Rocka looked like fun and a challenge – perfect motivational qualities. Not only that but its only contemporary competitor is a big Swedish inflated ball looking like a space-hopper without the fun handles. Brilliant idea superbly realised – pinch me, am I really writing this?

I suspect the Body Rocka will prove to be the best product ever to emerge from the Apprentice programme. I bet Sralan’s in on the patent! But here again an oddity: every week the biggest deal of all is always cost, cost cost. Not a dickie-bird this week about cost. The BR was £15 wholesale and £30 retail. That’s a nice little £150K for John Lewis but when it was tried on the You’re Fired programme later it was said to be very heavy. A very heavy, necessarily very strong – for safety reasons – complex shaped half-sphere with integrated flat, weight bearing, at least up to 20 stone moulded plastic? There’s just no way you can churn those out cheaply.

So Sralan moved the goalposts – for the Apprentices and for us – sales alone were the winning criteria this week – not profit. At £15 it was a no-brainer for John Lewis but we should at least know the cost of manufacture. My hunch is that unit cost for machine set-up, materials etc would be in double figures. But my guess isn’t the point – suddenly the critical parameter for success is changed and in a sense is pretty half-baked business-wise. Ignite also accepted orders from two other organisations and no one indicated how this was squared with John Lewis’s exclusivity condition.

That’s the problem with this week’s Apprentice – it actually became a worthwhile examination of the imagination, skills and talents required to succeed in business: but all the criteria normally used to judge success were just abandoned.

I though Majid was unlucky, Sralan changing the facts to justify his decision. Yes Maj was a little peripheral this week but when you saw on TAYF his previous two weeks he was lively, active and putting himself about a lot. Maybe it’s the golden rule of the The Apprentice – nice guys don’t win.

A couple of front-runners did emerge from this week: Philip’s imaginative idea set up the Body Rocka and his manner revealed a capacity for teamwork and the confidence to stand up for someone else. Sadly this was a credit more to his feelings than his judgement – for in fact Lorraine’s pitch was embarrassingly inept. It is startling how bad almost all the Apprentices are at selling – only Claire Young last year seemed to understand that ludicrously exaggerated claims delivered in a Jackanory, ‘now then children’ tone of voice wouldn’t sell a porn video to an MP’s husband.

Debra comes over as an unpleasant, foul-mouthed control freak with the teamwork instincts of Geoffrey Boycott on 99 runs, but she does take charge, is decisive and leads: even if her style is a cross between Attila the Hen and Mussolini. She’s one to watch though Philip has the edge, simply because he’s a bloke. If Debra can handle the humiliation that Sralan will need to subject her to because she’s a woman and he has to dominate women, then I guess she might win. But at this stage my money’s on Philip. Even though for all the wrong reasons, Ben’s unlovely foul-mouthed self-adoration may keep him there at the end.

James has gotta go. If for no other reason than his wife won’t be able to keep up with the washing if he keeps going into the Boardroom as a loser. It would be totally in the spirit of the schadenfreude that animates The Apprentice to inflict James on Sralan Sugar. But by about lunchtime on his very first day I suspect that Sralan wouldn’t so much fire him as shoot him. Dead.

Postscript

The fatuous idea that got away. This could have been one of the sublime episodes, up there with the ‘Kosher Chicken Michael “I’m only part Jewish” Sophocles caper.’ BBBB – Beautiful, Bombastic, Bumptious Ben’s first concept was some form of muscle-toning attachment to accompany having sex. With most sex-aids, at least the few with which I have ever come in contact – if you will forgive the expression – the traditional emphasis has been more on labour-saving than labour-increasing. And I’ve never understood the ping pong balls – I must get out more. I suppose being transported to the heights of sexual ecstasy with a guy wearing some kind of articulated jock strap would be a bit like making love to a partner struggling with a tricky clue in the Times Crossword. One has the impression that BBBB’s self-idolatry is so total that for him having sex with someone he loves is either a solitary onanistic achievement or one surrounded by mirrors so that he doesn’t miss any part of his exemplary performance. The triumphant words “it’s what I’m talking about” are echoing in my brain for some reason.

However Sralan is nothing if not a prurient Cromwellian at heart so the idea that Empire might have pitched a ‘sexercise’ product to him that would tend to increase rather than decrease the grunt-and-groan phase of the earth-moving process would have been a sight to see – like watching the countdown to a Shuttle launch with all the steam and smoke building up to lift off…..ah me what an opportunity missed.

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