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The Apprentice Week 10 – fallacies and moved goalposts

you aren't a warrior - you're fired

you aren't a warrior - you're fired

The Apprentice Week 10

– intelligent, thoughtful, skilled team-player, good listener, good manager – you’re fired.

If Sralan Sugar had been in charge of the European Champion’s League Final this week they’d still be playing: he moves the goalposts so suddenly and so often no one could ever score.

Last week the high-ticket Rocking Horses were a mistake; this week according to Sugar Lump high ticket items on a TV selling channel had to be the way to go; even though the team that followed that strategy lost. Sralan’s reaction – you’ve got it – his strategy was right – Howard’s team just didn’t implement it well enough. Last season offering exclusivity (ice cream to an 8 cinema chain) was a sacking offence; this season it was a great deal – the body-rocker for John Lewis. Every week cost, cost, cost like a mantra – yet we never had comparative manufacturing costs for the body-rocker etc. This week costs were ignored: the Apprentices could pick any product they wanted – no sale, no penalty. They were judged purely on sales/turnover not profit.

There is a logical fallacy called ‘affirming the consequent’: Sralan commits it every week. The fallacy is a misapplication of a valid argument form: it runs like this. (Remember this is a hypothetical form of argument that simply says “if p is the case – then q will follow.” It doesn’t say “p is the case” only what will follow if it is).

Proposition: If you are the best salesman – then you will sell the most things.
you were the best salesman
therefore: you sold most things – Valid

you sold the most things
therefore: you were the best salesman. Fallacy

Proposition: If you are a good Project Manager – then your team will win.
your team won
therefore: you were a good project manager. Fallacy


If p then q
therefore: q

Fallacy: If p then q
therefore: p

Sralan’s constant moving of the goalposts combined with systematic application of this fallacy is close to making this meaningless as any kind of fair contest. In the past few weeks he has fired people because:

• They were bad team players. But kept people who are even worse team players.
• They are too young. But kept people just as young and with less potential.
• They took a risk with choice of product. Then fired Howard because he didn’t.
• They couldn’t sell or present. But kept Lorraine who can’t do either.
• They pushed to be PM and lost. Kept Debra who screwed up at least 2 tasks as PM

He said it himself this week when he commented after Lorraine claimed she had business flair and acumen – “why do you want to work for me then?” Just so. This seconds after he had said he was looking for someone with good business instincts and flair – and Nick basically said these were Lorraine’s strengths.

As a consequence The Apprentice ‘fun-graph’ looks like a ski-jump with week 1 at the top. It is hard to take the thing too seriously at the beginning with so many massive, but transparently unjustified egos jockeying not to win but get noticed – but it’s sort of guilty fun watching intelligent people do stupid things in order to win something worthless in the first place. They are all encouraged to be so mouthy, arrogant, and supposedly ruthless that our guilt at laughing at their discomfort is completely allayed.

As the numbers reduce then individuals get more space to be heard – for better or worse. With blowhards like Ben and Philip gone Howard’s qualities have begun to emerge. He is the first person to be able to manage Lorraine and in so doing, removed her so far successful excuse that her lack of contribution was because of someone else. She can’t sell and is an embarrassment as a presenter. Her choice of products this week, courtesy of her unexamined, unfounded whimsical ‘instinct’ were the ludicrous polystyrene ‘craft’ animals and the outrageously priced £240 Dinosaur. How would Howard have got on in the Boardroom if he had rejected both? How would Lorraine have reacted?

No one could have sold the polystyrene pets but it is hard to understand why Kate’s OTT but fun presentation of the air guitar was so unsuccessful. Maybe the kind of people who buy from the shopping channel take the business of shopping so seriously that they have no sense of humour or appreciation of a bit of fun.

It is scary that Debra Barr is only 23 years old: she must have been raised on a shark farm. Were it not for an ‘unfortunate’ streak of independence and being both a woman and intelligent she’s a shoe-in. She can sell, present, argue you to death, and dominate virtually anyone. And she’s a bully. Does that sound familiar? Does Sralan like mirrors? She has that one-dimensional obsessiveness characteristic of highly successful business people. It has been said that all you really need if you want to be rich is for being rich to be the only thing you want to be and devote your life to that to the exclusion of all else. Without a trace of irony, business obsessives extol this quality as ‘focus’. To follow the metaphor, to be absolutely focussed means to see one thing or one part of a larger whole very clearly: but by definition focus means you don’t see the wider ‘picture’ or the irreducible complexity of any organisation comprised of large numbers of people each with their lives, their aspirations, their hopes. These are the motive forces of success.

The Apprentice has flipped. After several weeks where the name of the game was for us to watch Alan Sugar assess and judge the qualities of the Apprentices; we are now irresistibly drawn to judging Alan Sugar’s qualities of judgement, his philosophy of management. Now the fun has gone that is the only substantive issue of any interest left.

Could Debra ever delegate, motivate, formulate a plan and implement it through the activities of others? As Yas is the only one with the gumption to stand up to Debra and may just be a bit less threatening to Sralan could this be key? Can James stop playing the silly-arse? Is Kate’s one-trick enough?

It is getting so that it is hard to care very much. But I would like to see Sralan Sugar’s judgements and philosophy of business put to the test. I am not the only person who thinks they stink. That they are not worthy of the young intelligent people we need to run organisations public or private. Week in week out The Apprentice format permits Sralan Sugar to move goalposts at whim, make unfounded, capricious judgements based upon frequently fallacious arguments. The air reeks every week with self-congratulatory post-hoc rationalisations. And he doesn’t even notice.

As SAS might put it “you was wrong, they was right and anyone can be right with bleedin’ hindsight.” And before you take me to task for being ‘snobby’ about the way SAS expresses himself – articulacy, a feeling for the nuances of words and their effects on others is part of civilised behaviour let alone the art of management. It does matter – surely George W Bush proved that beyond a doubt. Wittgenstein: “where there is an error of grammar, there is usually an error of thought.” Every week Apprentices unneccessarily alienate and put up the backs of co-workers simply through careless, lazy, arrogant use of language. Our care with language, including when we need to be blunt, is a mark of respect for others especially when they are wrong and need to be told. It is not a matter of accent or idiom – it is a matter of quality of thought. But then Sralan’s philosophy of business that we see every week is pretty much ‘sod the planning – get out there and sell’. Nick Hewer and SAS let the Sugar philosophy of business out of the bag this week when they told the most competent PM of the series so far that he lacked ambition because he was not a “brave warrior”, not the “BIG GUY who risks all to win.” This testosterone-fuelled tosh sounds almost homophobic addressed to an intelligent, competent, gay man. It also indicates, to put it with Sugar-like delicacy of language, that to survive in the Sugar business ethos a woman has to grow balls. That injunction must favour Debra as she acts as if she was born with said anatomical accoutrements. And even if she wasn’t she can easily pick a couple of someone else’s from her back pocket after each week’s task.

SAS should not be allowed to get away week in, week out, with giving a reason for firing someone not the reason. There’s not much justice or reality in that. Or disciplined business judgement.

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