I have a guilty pleasure. I know I shouldn’t but I can’t help myself. Every year for the past 10 years or so… I have watched the Apprentice from start to finish. At first it was something that I used to talk about with family and friends, but gradually they all stopped watching, and for the last 2 or three years, I’ve just watched by myself, not mentioning it to other people, occasionally summarising and episode for my wife, who gave up watching about 3 years ago. So now it is a sad, solitary, secret, something I do when everyone else has gone to bed.
The truth is the only reason I watch it is the same reason everyone else does, its car crash TV. one level above those shows that are just clips from CCTV cameras of people falling over, or dashcam footage of near misses in Russia (why is it always Russia?) It used to have a little merit as a ‘business’ show, but now it boils down to a bunch of arrogant and naive kids playing at being ‘entrepreneurs’. There is very little relevance to making the candidates share a house, or getting them to get ready for a task with only 20 minutes notice ( I never understood why they did that).
However, there is something to be learned from the Apprentice for the small business owner or sole trader.
Team work makes the dream work
I get that its a game in the end, but why is everyone out for themselves? If you are trying to prove yourself to Alan Sugar, to convince him that you would make a good business partner and are worth investing in, maybe, just maybe, it would be a good idea to show that you can work with other people towards a common goal? Just a thought. If you had £250,000, would you give it to the person who consistently failed to respect their colleagues, couldn’t work in a team and had no delegation skills?
The point I am trying to make is a key skill in business is learning to work as a team. At some point, everyone has to rely on someone else, and in business, it is very important to work together to deliver on a goal or project. If you run a small shop, for example, you need to work together on customer service, ordering, stock taking, marketing, maintenance and all sorts of other things. If you are a sole trader, you need to work as a team with clients, service providers, contractors, and collaborators. If one person runs the show, everyone else ends up frustrated and disenfranchised, and trust goes out the window. Which leads us to…
Blame it on the boogie
What is the one thing that you shout at the tv more than anything during an episode of The Apprentice? For me, it’s ‘stop blaming everyone else!’. Whenever anything goes wrong, the contestants are so quick to blame everyone else. They formulate plans to blame the Project Manager for a choice if it doesn’t work, they stab each other in the back when they get in front to Alan Sugar, sometimes before they even know if they have won or lost. They are desperate to shift blame.
There are two points here. Firstly, this sort of behavior breeds mistrust and resent within teams. And secondly, people need to take ownership of things for good or ill.
It is very easy to see that if Jane is always blaming John for the problems within a working team, John is going to get the hump pretty quickly. It’s going to cause friction and resentment in the team and maybe John isn’t going to want to work with Jane any more.The fact is that things go wrong, and often it is not easy to predict what will and won’t work. It’s much better to pick the team up, dust them off and move on to the next thing. There is the old saying that you learn more from failures than from success, and pointing fingers only gets in the way of learning important lessons from your failures.
Ownership of failures is just as important as ownership of successes. If you can say’ I did X, it didn’t work, so next time I will try Y instead’ you have had a much better day than if you tried Z and it worked, but you have no idea why. There are very few mistakes they cannot be rectified, and if you can’t, then learn something and do it better next time. You will also garner a lot more respect from people if you own your mistakes and learn from them. Be proud of your success, sure, but be proud of the failures that shaped you too.
I bet you think this blog is about you
One thing that almost all the contestants share is overconfidence and arrogance. This is clearly played up for TV, but there I no doubt that the business there are a lot of arrogant people. I am not a confident person, so arrogance is not something I suffer from very often. I truly believe that knowing where your talents lie, and more importantly their limitations, is one of the most important things when you are running a company or working for yourself. You need to know when to get someone else to do something for you and when someone else could do a better job.
When talking to clients, being arrogant is not going to win them over. They want to know that you know what you are doing and that you can solve a problem for them. They don’t want to know what you think you are the best thing since sliced bread. Humility goes a long way.
Using The Apprentice as an example, Alan Sugar himself is rarely arrogant to be boastful. Quite often when he mentions business success, he does so to prove the point that he has been there and done that. Which seems fair enough, when you have a 22-year-old trying to tell you how something is done, when you have been doing it for close to 50 years, you are going to want to put them in their place. The point is, that is confidence in his own abilities, not arrogance that he knows better than everyone else in the room. Say what you like about Alan, he has definitely been around the block a few times.
A lot of the arrogance seems to boil down to inexperience. The most arrogant contestants are the younger ones. This year there is a brace of particularly annoying 19-year-old candidates, who seem to believe they know it all. Now I remember what it was like being 19, you think you are invincible and all of sudden, your an adult, doing adult stuff and it feels like you own the world. But it is a very important lesson to learn that you know jack shit and in fact, you’re a long way off knowing even a fraction of what you think you know. There is a whole lot of failure ahead. And that’s a good thing. Fail, learn, grow, move on. Experience beats youth. I’m not saying that there is no place for young people in business, just that knowing that they know nothing will make their life a lot easier and make it easier for them to work with others.
I think it’s obvious that The Apprentice has evolved a bit from a show about business to a game show with business elements. It’s not really relevant as a direct comparison to most business owner’s experience of day to day life. It’s entertaining, more often than not excruciating to watch, but there are some things we can still glean from it to help us be better business people. Basically, don’t do what they do, and you’ll be fine.
I’m Alex Dyett
I am a freelance Graphic Designer and Photographer, and Flickering Light Studio is my company. I live in York, UK, with my wife and daughter.
Hopefully, this blog post has given you some inspiration to go out and tell your businesses story with great design and eye-catching images. Take a look at the other blog posts to get some more ideas, and if there is anything that you feel I could help you with, please feel free to contact me, and I will be happy to work on a project with you.