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The Apprentice (8) – Connor Sores of Art


Tell Laura I (Love) Fire Her



The Apprentice (8)  – Connor Sores of Art

A few years ago the Australian medical community were pondering a problem: they were receiving a worrying number of complaints that significant numbers of hospital doctors, especially surgeons and most especially Consultants, were remote and detached; lacking in warmth and empathy.

This will come as no surprise to many of you who have been treated by Consultants; many of whom would make God feel inadequate and who manage to induce an acute sense of guilt in me that my culpably trivial ailment is taking up nanoseconds of their infinitely valuable time. My star of the genre was the gentleman who swooped up to my bed of pain followed, as most of them usually are, by a skein of deferential nurses in full v-formation. To establish the puny facts of my slipped lumbar disc, this star of the medical firmament spent 5 diamond-studded, gold plated minutes mystifyingly interrogating my feet. Having not made eye contact with me once during this peremptory process, He swooped off, his starchy acolytes remaining in a precise formation that would have been the envy of the Red Arrows. We only needed the two rear trainee nurses to let off coloured smoke canisters for the performance to be complete.

So it’s got nothing do with being Australian. However, if the problem is occupationally generic not ethnic; the response of the Australian medical establishment was as interesting as it was wise. They rejected the assumption that all doctors as part of their training should undergo additional classes in psychology or even neuro-linguistic programming. That had been tried and hadn’t worked. Instead they introduced a study module centred on literature and drama: they studied great novelists like Tolstoy, George Eliot and the Brontes; and dramatists like Shakespeare. The rationale, which seems to me to be insightful, was that these people did not need moretechniques; they needed to think about people, relationships and emotional insight in complex, disturbing situations.

I have no idea whether the initial success of this genuinely left-field thinking was sustained but I like to think it was.

This Michael Cainism – ‘not a lot of people know that’ – came to mind as I watched this week’s Apprentice. The emotional immaturity of the candidates on the show is clear every year but never ceases to surprise me when ostensibly most of them have either achieved some degree of success in business or at least successfully faking such success on a CV. Reminded of the Australian doctor dilemma, it struck me that there were parallels: both groups seem to think that a set of techniques unilaterally applied with enough arrogance and determination – not only must succeed, but constitute the only way to succeed: you’re always in full control and the patient, customer is a passive participant in the process with nothing relevant to say. Talk-and-tell for Apprentices always trumps listen-and-persuade. The otherwise admirable Tom this week demonstrated this fallacy to perfection: one could see the look of scarcely concealed contempt on the part of the artists when assailed, nay assaulted by Tom’s self-important ingratiating, name-dropping style. He asked little and listened to nothing. Not surprisingly the most saleable artist, sardonically marketing as ‘Pure Evil’ went for the subtler approach of Gabrielle and Co: it wasn’t really better – it was just less crass.

The Apprentices had to sell themselves, to the artists; before they could sell the art, to the customers. Tom’s saving grace was that post hoc he had the self-awareness to realise that he’d probably screwed it up and even why.

Tom was clearly what Steve memorably described as a Connor Sore of street art and artists; or in Steve’s definition “nutcases who’ve got a bit of genius”. That’s not bad. Certainly Tom did pretty well pitching to his Renault corporate clients, asking the right questions and for once listening to the answers. It is a good job he isn’t a Formula One fan or he’d have gotten up their noses too. Out of her depth throughout this week, Laura at least demonstrated the common sense to shut up when she obviously had nothing to say. Although I think she was rightly this week’s sackee, her contribution to the selling evening wasn’t that awful; despite Adam’s apparent success with his “I can do you a couple of Kilos of Art with 20% off” approach. I’d have thought Art, even street Art was a demonstrably ‘soft’ sell and Laura did circulate, chat and establish a friendly atmosphere. If, as it should have been, a team-selling ‘Azhar’ (strategy) Laura did ok. It is one of the regular contradictions of the The Apprentice that the candidates are enjoined to display teamwork and then measured purely on individual results. Laura could have done better but she rather represented a challenge to another underlying assumption of Barley and the Beeb producers – that a good salesman can sell anything: well it is true that a good ‘flogger’ can flog anything – but that’s not always the same thing.

In the all-pervasive ‘show-don’t-tell’ department Jade was only the most recent Apprentice who failed to recognise that propositions like “he/she is a born leader” have no legitimate first-person singular form of expression.

Each year we are bewildered that the 16 chosen candidates can possibly be the best that are available: but there are usually one or two delusional megalomaniacs to make us long for their downfall to be swift, complete and total. Truth is this year there is not much genuine talent on show and the hubris is definitely of the self-consciously unconvincing variety.

Tom and Nick look the best bets left: though if Adam doesn’t become the Sugared One’s partner there is a distinct possibility that he’ll adopt him instead. The talent gap is most noticeable this year in the women – I still think the best of them was fired in the first week. Gabrielle is likable but disorganised; Jade is neither a born leader nor sufficiently numerate to excel; and Jenna’s skills are a bit narrowly based. Stephen has fallen into the salesman’s trap: believing his own sales pitch even when, indeed especially when, it manifestly isn’t working. He seems instantly devoted to the first fatuous thought that enters his head – like the half-arsed idea of sticking his artist out in the yard all evening and not letting anyone know he’s there. Banksy eat your heart out. He’s also a bit leaden in the think-on-your-feet department: his response to the ungreeted, ignored, drinkless executive of their Beefeater Gin corporate client’s rueful “we thought we might get a gin and tonic” of “we wish” being a classic of the genre.

It is hard to see this rather humdrum bunch setting the last half of the series alight. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that the Producers are trying to think up something to re-energise what is beginning to look like a pretty tired formula.


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