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The Apprentice Week 6 – Sralan…you`re fired!

Two's company....three's.....

Would you two like to get your hands off my butt?

The Apprentice Week 6 – Sralan…you`re fired!

I’m not kidding. In my view the most incompetent, inadequate person in this weeks’ show was Sir Alan Sugar himself considered as a leader specifying the aims and objectives of a task. I believe his behaviour towards the contestants is increasingly objectionable – gratuitously insulting and bordering on the slanderous. And I’m deadly serious.

Noorul first: yes he had to go simply because he couldn’t sell an alcoholic a drink. And this show is about little else but being able to flog things. In the real world a good manager knows his team and plays to their strengths in delegating tasks: in The Apprentice the Team leader delegates nothing except blame. This is the exact opposite of any recognisable concept of leadership. Noorul did exactly what Ben asked him to do and Sralan claimed was the critical task in the challenge. Almost alone amongst either team, Noorul researched and valued his item, the skeleton, correctly, at approx £150. The decision to sell at all costs was Ben’s and they were all, both teams, under the impression that they had to sell everything; that is was better to sell cheap than not sell at all. They thought this because that is exactly what Alan Sugar told them.

This is where Mr Sugar is in the frame – in the antiques showroom when he set up the task he said:

“The team that comes back with the highest amount of sales will win.”

They all heard it and both teams manifestly acted on it. The ‘highest amount’ of sales is ambiguous itself – never a great quality when specifying the parameters and objectives of a task. It could mean the team generating the highest revenue from their sales. It could mean the team that sold the most items from their common stock items. What it does not, cannot mean, is the team that undersells the least. A totally different strategy is called for to pursue that objective: you would, as the antique dealer said on TAYF later, “live to fight another day” i.e. you would hold on to a piece and sell at a later stage rather than undersell it now. Sugar specified the task in totally different terms, made no mention of margin or even profit, and told them to flog the stuff for the most they could get. It is obviously clear that both teams understood him as meaning this because both went to absurd lengths not to return with unsold items. Apart from being specifically tasked to do this on this occasion, anyone familiar with the series would have assumed the same thing, as I did, because that is how this sort of task has always been set up in the past.

When it came to the judgement of the task, not for the first time, Sugar changed the rules post hoc. Then with a degree of charmlessness which defines the spirit of his increasingly grubby little show, he treated his potential employees with a level of insolent contempt none of them on this occasion actually deserved. Frankly and forgive my Sugar-like vulgarity, Sralan couldn’t motivate a beer drinker to p*ss. In my opinion, based upon his behaviour on this show, it’s a good job he owns his company, because no one would ever employ him to run it.

The leitmotif of The Apprentice is that Alan Sugar scares people into behaving stupidly so he can call them stupid for our enjoyment.

Not-so-pretty Phil had a glimmering of an idea that as team leader he needed to defuse last week’s feud with Lorraine. This conviction lasted about 90 seconds until she disagreed with him. Unfortunately for him she correctly identified the carpet as the most valuable item and he dismissed her out of hand and shamed her into not researching its value by claiming she was disruptive and wasting time. His winning strategy amounted to touting the £200 carpet in the street to passers-by and only sheer luck found him a last minute buyer at £140 loss. But his team didn’t quite plumb the depths of Ben’s – having asked £5 for a commode, his pitchee said he’d pay him £6 to go away.

If No-rule Noorul raised perplexing questions of ontology and posed dilemmas in the Philosophy of Mind; How-ard this week offended the principle of Occam’s razor, established by 14th century logician and monk William of Ockham:

“do not multiply entities beyond necessity”

This wise maxim advises against inventing pointless concepts that have no purpose or function in the philosophical project at issue. How-ard each week has been a pointless entity for which there is no necessity. Early surgical removal is recommended.

After a couple of tasks which have brought out some unexpected positive qualities in our GUTTIE’s – Grotesquely-Up-Themselves-To-an-Idiotic-Extent, this week degenerated into the usual ‘shoot him, not me’ unseemliness in the boardroom. The I am sure normally decent Noorul becoming so angry with Ben that he went down the Apprentices’ ethical cul de sac – tattle telling about private comments and conversations in the Apprentices’ hostel.

Week in, week out the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst must be offering thanks to the great General-In-The-Sky that their now most infamous scholarship boy didn’t show. The usually mild-mannered James was on the ball when he told the bragging boneheaded Ben that his behaviour in the boardroom had been “spineless”. Big Ben matches his namesake: big and heavy, slightly cracked and simply repeats himself minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day.

I said a couple of weeks ago to watch out for Sralan dominating a woman and cutting her down to size. I thought at the time this would probably be Debra: she has all the qualities – intelligent, feisty, independent and of course the necessary condition, she’s a woman. Sralan distrusts intelligence and hates dissent, especially in women. I have little truck for Dark Deb but it was a bit rich for Sralan after having been vulgar and foul-mouthed himself to come down like a ton of bricks on her simply because she defended herself against a false claim made about her by Nick Hewer. Her offence? Hewer claimed that credit for one of their best sales of a book for £80 was down to Ben – so she said “how can you say that when I researched the shop and dealt with the bookseller.” It was instructive that both Hewer and Sugar, registered astonished disbelief like a couple of Mr Bumbles when Oliver said “I want some more.” It is clear that in the Sugar Empire no one questions power, no one stands up to authority, however arbitrary, capricious or wrong-headed. In a healthy organisation – this is a requirement not an offence.

It ill-behoves someone who abuses his position week in and week out to insult, bad-mouth and humiliate people for whom he has some responsibility, to get on his high horse because a minion has the temerity to disagree with him. Hewer initiated his intervention, made the dubious assertion and got what was coming to him when Debra challenged him.

Sorry dear reader but it is hard to find anything much in this week’s show to laugh at – though Philip and Co trying to sell a bloody great carpet to a carphone accessory salesman raised a little smile. Despite all the qualifications and obvious manipulation to make this show ‘entertaining’ it does lay claim to have some relationship to business principles and practice. I’m no dyed-in-the-wool capitalist but people in companies and organisations don’t have to behave in these hateful, charm-less, cowardly, self-obsessed ways in order to get on or be successful. The Apprentice is a perfect model of how not to lead a company; how to fail miserably in managing people; how to squander talent and waste intelligence.

Why should Alan Sugar be fired?

1. He totally mis-specified the task and its critical requirements
2. He blamed the contestants for doing exactly what he told them to do. This is common: what we might call ‘Executive Drift’ – when events prove you gave staff the wrong objectives, blame them for not pursuing the right ones you didn’t mention. Basic Corporate CYA – cover your a*se. Delegate failure and blame – claim all credit and success.
3. He treated contestants with contempt; gratuitously and unjustifiably insulting and bullying them.
4. In my view he fired someone, not for the first time, because he didn’t like him. Sralan fires people on The Apprentice either because he doesn’t like them or he feels threatened by them. Or both.
5. Having fired Noorul he said of him “anyone who employs him, better get a receipt”. One way of understanding this remark makes it borderline slanderous.
6. His remark about James was unconscionable: in questioning whether Ben was bringing people back into the boardroom for the right reasons Sugar said was he bringing James because he thought “there might be a village missing an idiot somewhere.” Talking in T-shirt slogans isn’t generally recognised as a critical CEO skill.

Often funny, sometimes hilariously surreal, occasionally thought-provoking and always exasperating, watching The Apprentice this week seemed frankly slightly demeaning. One glimmer of light was that the deeply unlovely Debra was the first Apprentice I can remember to break the rules: to challenge authority, question power. That was worth witnessing; just as seeing exactly the shocked and horrified response that confirmed one’s belief’s about the shoddy conception of business and management exemplified by The Apprentice.

Bertrand Russell:

“Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent than in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.”

Nota Bene Mr Sugar.

PS: The Eyes Have It

Maggie the Mountie had better watch her step: calling Lorraine Cassandra was both witty and perceptive – someone who has the truth but is not listened to because she is so unremittingly doom and gloomy. But we saw what Maggsie didn’t: Sralan’s rolling eyes revealing that he hadn’t a clue what she talking about, didn’t get the reference and therefore might have his ignorance exposed. An insecure Alan Sugar is a dangerous creature. And he is always insecure.

Good-on-yer Maggsie – but watch your back.

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