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The Apprentice Episode 10 – Helen of Ploy


Me and the Dalhai - we're real mates

The Apprentice Episode 10 – Helen of Ploy

True story: waiting last night at Wembley for Take That to take the stage my teacher daughter Ruth was talking about some school fund-raising activities at her school last week. She has a form of 30, year 7s i.e. 11/12 year-olds, all girls, at a good all-ability Comprehensive Girls School. She divided the class into 2 and each ‘team’ was given £10 and a week to try to make as much profit with it as they could. They were left to come up with their own ideas and to seek help only if they needed it.

The week had just ended and she asked one of her teams how much they had made. “£170 Miss.” Impressed but a bit surprised she said “how did you do that?” “We bought little sweet lollipops at the supermarket and then sold them for double what we paid.” Still impressed but also a bit perplexed Ruth said “that’s brilliant but I don’t see how you were able to make £170 when you only had 10 £s-worth of lollipops to sell.”

“Oh that was easy Miss: we sold the first £10s-worth for £20, took out £5 profit and used the £15 left to buy more lollipops. Then we did the same each day for a week. Easy.” I think I was more gob-smacked than Ruth was. I couldn’t believe it but did a bit of fag-packet maths – and it works: even if there will soon be an epidemic of dental caries in the area.

So you’ll imagine my amazement when we got back late from a great concert and watched this week’s Apprentice. I don’t tell this story to tell you how great my daughter is, though she is, but because all (sic) she did was create an environment conducive to and supportive of, creative thought; cooperative endeavour to a common purpose – teamwork; and let imaginations rip. None of the girls had been trained or taught by the Dalhai Llama, Nelson Mandela or that well-loved marketing guru, the ghost of Albert Einstein. How on earth did they manage? Worse: none of them has run a ‘business’ whose actual activity defies description in ordinary human language.

Week in, week out the sheer poverty of imagination and ego-blinded plain foolishness of most of the Apprentices does my head in. Ruth’s particular group of girls were perhaps on this occasion a bit special, a bit out of the ordinary: I loved the subtlety of the fact that they took out £5/day profit before re-investing as a ‘hedge’ against making no profit. However there are weeks when I am absolutely convinced that groups like Ruth’s all over the country and even Primary school kids could come up with more imaginative and more productive suggestions than our so-called cream of UK entrepreneurial genius’s.

My underlying point though will be familiar to anyone who has read these reviews and lies at the heart of my hostility to Alan Sugar’s business philosophy. Loud-mouthed aggression does not always beat quiet assertiveness; dog-eat-dog does not always beat teamwork; competition can motivate to win because you are best, not just to beat your opponent at all costs; you can frighten people into acting – but you can’t frighten them into thinking. As my daughter and 1000s of great teachers around the country know – education is about what you bring out of people, not what you put in: what you motivate and release not what you command and control. So is management. Yes, there is need for a little grit here and there: but it only needs a little grit to produce a pearl.

Lao Tzse: “ The poor leader is he who the people hate. The good leader is he who the people love. The great leader is he who the people say – we did it ourselves.” Just so Mr Sugar.

Whoops sorry guys: went off on a philosophical wobbler there. Good to see Jedi Jim back this week. He does need to understand that being charming is a grammatical form with no first person present expression. Sorry Jimbo but being charming is a whole different ballgame than ‘knowing’ you are and being smug about it. That said he can charm the birds out of the trees or off the street to buy umbrellas and have a hug. He does unfortunately still have that snidey, insinuating way of trashing other Apprentices – this week Natasha – yeah yeah ‘Tash. Isn’t it weird that as soon as someone features more prominently in this programme their infuriating qualities immediately explode all over us? Opinionated, patronising, linguistically afflicted, only transmits – no ‘receive’ function; and implacably certain of believing she’s right in inverse proportion to being so. Cute hat though. Shame about the whistle.

Fallibility this week from Helen of Ploy: she who has launched a thousand order slips. Not being a spiv, Helen has excelled at quasi-corporate level tasks: big companies, big buyers, big orders etc. This week’s try-em-flog-em-buy-more-flog-em-again task was as Sugar Lump might say (sic), not her milieu. But unlike Melody she soon realised targeting Retailers was not the way to go and unleashed her Takitoverov gambit: a ploy new to The Apprentice – change your tune half way through by switching the Melody. For one heart-stopping moment I thought the most decorated black-eyed girl since Lady Ga-Ga was going to display the first authentic case of an Apprentice putting the business task before personal ego: but no – not on your Nelly Helly.

A classic Apprentice moment this week: trying to sell a £50 watch in a Poundsave shop was of course stupid; almost as stupid as walking through the door in the first place. However having been told the whole idea of the shop was that everything cost under £1, trying to negotiate down from £40 redefined the concept of stupidity. Mind you trying to sell a towel set to the bemused owner of a hardware shop runs a close second. After a day like that Helen’s coup-de-tat was not just forgivable but a Kantian moral imperative.

If Tommy Teapot can just grit his teeth and trust his intelligence and instinctive feel for business analysis enough to stick to his guns and quietly refuse to budge until his intelligence and common sense overcomes egotistic infallibility, then he could win this. But if he is to win he must signal to Sugar Lump: I am a gentleman, a gentle man, but no one, least of all you Mr Sugar, shall push me around. Win without that being clear and his business life will be a nightmare in Sugarland. But one of the most likeable guys ever on the show.

Life on Planet Susie this week was as ever chaotic. Being inside Susie’s head must be a bit like being a butterfly: outwardly constant unpredictable, apparently random activity and internal Hegelian-esque dialectic, which occasionally displays a hint of coherent purpose – though Susie’s nectar does tend to be little and seldom. She might as well have tried to sell fridges to Eskimos as hawking polyester bed-linen door to door in Knightsbridge and Kensington. However, like the rest of you I’m sure, while my heart sunk at her re-focus on cheap and cheerful jewellery I had to eat my thoughts when she then flogged them very successfully with her own inimitable, slightly surreal selling style. While yeah, yeah, chill, chill ‘Tash was being decisively useless and uselessly decisive, Susie done good. I do hope she wins – because she’ll drive the Sugarman so crazy within 24 hours that he will just give her the loot and beg her to go away. After all: why shouldn’t a police horse have to walk on the pavement?

It’s a 3-horse race: Jedi Jim came back this week; Helen damage-limited cleverly though not very nicely; and Tommy Teapot showed that unlike the others he can do things he neither likes nor is instinctively good at – for the good of the business. Melody rightly went; Yeah Yeah ‘Tash needs shaving off; and scatty Susie put out of her bewilderment. Then it will finally get interesting. However we have the ‘How not to conduct an interview’ Sugar bully buddies to come and I am relishing seeing what they make of Susie-Q?.

Tomorrow’s special? God, two in a week: my computer will crash in protest.

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