Young Apprentice 2011 – 7: One Fatal Flaw and the Ad Hominem Trap
Last night’s Young Apprentice was truly exciting.
As usual, we saw plenty of examples of poor, good and superb performance, but my overall assessment matches Lord Sugar’s: the six young people competing were all extraordinary examples of the talent that their generation can field. I am afraid i will have to get just a little socio-political by the time I get to the end of this week’s assessment.
But first, down to the business of recording the basics…
Last night’s high-stakes game was for two teams to develop a brand concept for flavoured popcorn, and two flavours, to pitch to three buying teams in three industries that buy snack-food items: an airline, a supermarket, and a cinema chain. Lord Sugar picked the teams and set the rules: the losing team would all be fired and one candidate from the winning team would also be fired. Now the emphasis would all be on team-work. Not Harry M’s forté.
With predictable dynamics, every member of each team pitched for the Project Manager role and in each, the least assertive (Lizzie and Haya) backed down and got to choose PM.
- Atomic: Harry H led Harry M and Lizzie
- Kinetic: James led Zara and Haya
The teams then chose themes and started their journey towards branding. Kinetic appeared to easily cohere around a Mediterranean theme, although failed to find inspiration for a brand name, settling eventually for “la Popcorn”. I am no linguist but:
- I know France has a Mediterranean coast, but Spain and Italy are more closely associated…
How about il Popcorn, or el Popcorn
- my French dictionaries don’t have “popcorn”, but Google translate definitely thinks popcorn has a masculine gender: le Popcorn…
It was a pretty poor brand.
Atomic could not cohere. Harry H and Lizzie went for an American theme, while Harry M held out (and held out, and held out, and…) for “Smoochies” – a sharing popcorn. Lord Sugar seemed to like Harry M’s idea, but I was with Lizzie: it seemed immature and naff. I did like the “Empire State” brand they eventually chose… albeit, I don’t think Harry M really ever got behind it.
The teams had different strategies. For Kinetic, Zara pitched all three times and did it very well. “Breathtakingly good” was how Nick Hewer described her. She did, however reach astonishingly great heights of hyperbole and also told a budget airline that they offered “the highest standard, which I’m sure you’re looking for.” It’s a budget airline: not killing people is the standard they are looking for if the ones I’ve flown with are anything to go by. She also rather comically described the “la” as “the prefix tells the consumer the product is a little bit from abroad”. Actually it tells us that the branding was done by Brits with no faculty for languages. But I quibble. Zara is, as I have said, a great performer.
So is Harry H, which made it disappointing that his pitch to the cinema chain (Odeon) was decent, but no better. Both Harrys gave good answers to tough questions, but the buyers seemed underwhelmed.
But Harry’s strategy was different from James’. He allowed each candidate in his team to pitch and this is where Lizzie shone. I thought her pitch the best of all we saw. I really got the impression i was wrong last week to suggest Lord Sugar should have fired her rather than Hayley. She emerged as a very strong candidate last night. Harry M’s pitch was the weakest we saw, to the supermarket chain, Morrisons.
Into the Boardroom
Interestingly, at the outset Lord Sugar had not stated the rules for who would win – allowing, I think, for him to select a winner if the “who sells most” rule gave the wrong answer. But I also noted that he had split my two strongest contenders, Harry H and Zara. This meant that only one would get an automatic firing. In the end, he went with the simple rule. And here is the results the teams got.
Maple Syrup Pancake
Chorizo & Tomato
Olive & Fetta
Kinetic won – despite the airline hating the taste of their product, because the hundred pound gorilla drove the result. And the hundred pound gorilla that is one of the big four UK supermarkets defines Harry H’s fatal flaw.
One Fatal Flaw
Harry H commendably took the first pitch and generously shared out the opportunities for glory. James said he didn’t care about fair: he wanted to win. Zara was the best person to pitch. He asked her to do all three. Harry H is, on what we have seen over the earlier six episodes, by far the strongest pitcher of the Atomic line-up. Morrisons were going to be the most important pitch. Harry M had reservations about the brand. That was Harry H’s fatal flaw.
Throughout the episode, Atomic looked best, due to Harry H’s and Lizzie’s strengths and James’ bull-in-a-popcorn shop “I don’t agree” style. I thought Atomic had the stronger brand and the more easily saleable flavours. I must however concede that Morrisons buyers can probably see through the strengths and weaknesses of a pitch to the saleability of a product. Maybe “la Popcorn” would be more saleable than “Empire State popcorn”.
And then there were three…
I pretty much agree with Lord Sugar’s sentiments about the members of the losing team.
Lord Sugar clearly found much to admire, despite Harry’s obvious shortcomings. He has often been right, but has not found a way to win over people.
I’ll say plainly: she impressed me this week and I under-estimated her last week. Lord Sugar described her as straightforward, straight-speaking and honest.
Lord Sugar described Harry as giving a “general all round great performance”, saying he was “sorry we’re parting in this way”. Clearly he shared my view that Harry was an extremely strong candidate. For my money, on what we have seen, I still think he was the strongest.
… and then two
Who would go, out of Haya, James and Zara.?
Haya Al Dlame
She really had learned to listen through the process and had, as Lord Sugar acknowledged, taken on his advice. She is determined, but not innovative.
tracks back to one great pitch near the start of the show. She may be a safe bet to not foul up, but she does not astonish.
James has made the longest journey. His rough edges that were so grating in early episodes have smoothed considerably. He does not impress as a “professional presence” as Harry H does, but he is certainly the most commercially-minded of the candidates. I always suspected that this would endear him to Lord Sugar.
Zara is eloquent in the boardroom and out, and like Harry H looks the professional already. Lord Sugar worries whether she will want to get her hands dirty, but i read her as a powerful shaping force who will lead from the front when she needs to.
I agonised over who I thought Lord Sugar should fire out of James and Hay, but as soon as he fired Haya, I knew he was right. My vacillation came down to an early dislike of James, clouding my judgement – the ad hominem trap. The ad hominem trap is a logical flaw in reasoning, where personal characteristics blind us to evidence.
Sorry James. You were hard to take early on, but the effort you have made to change over the series impresses me. Lord Sugar asked about you: “can the leopard change its spots?” I saw far fewer spots last night than in episodes one and two. Yes, I think it can: I think it is changing them.
The Politics Rant
If you don’t like politics, turn away now! I won’t do this often.
At the end of the episode, we heard Lord Sugar, Nick and Karren discussing how impressed they are with the young people on the show. Hear hear. They are exemplars to their generation. But here is the thing: every single one of them is doing well at school. Some may not be stellar academics, but I was captivated by Phillip Zimbardo’s analysis that success is not attributable to race, culture, wealth… The one thing it really does correlate with is a forward focus – a sense that the future is the most essential time frame. And one thing that systemically creates that mental attitude is educational opportunity. Some parents do: some don’t. Some cultures do: some don’t. But education does.
Many entrepreneurs (like Lord Sugar) left the education system early. They succeeded for their own reasons. But education really is the magic key. So why in the name of all that is precious would we make cuts to Sure Start? Why would we treat teachers like anything other than the heroes most of them are? Why would we make young people face years of debt (which our Government tells us is a bad thing) just to get the education that they and our country need to create the workforce of the future? Why do we have an educational policy that values traditional subjects (like those favoured by public schools) over real life skills (like those the young people showed here) and equally valuable vocational skills like engineering and other trades (I say this having thrived on traditional subjects)? Why on earth is MP (Member of Parliament) a more prestigious tag than RN (Registered Nurse) or PGCE (Post Graduate Certificate of Education)?