The Apprentice 2012, Episode 8: Risky Decisions
Tonight’s episode gave us a litany of business lessons, a further reminder of the importance of demeanour but, ultimately for me, one really important principle to focus on: decision making.
The teams’ task was to select two urban artists to represent and to mount a one night show and sell to maximise the commission on sales, including to a corporate buyer.
Whilst urban, or street, art is a familiar part of modern cityscapes, few of us understand the market, so this activity was designed to throw the contestants into an unfamiliar world and some – Adam Corbally in particular – were well out of their comfort zones. Luckily, each team could field one plausible “expert” to act as Project Manager.
Sterling chose artistically-minded Gabrielle Omar
to lead Jenna Whittingham, Ricky Martin, Nick Holzherr and Stephen Brady.
Phoenix chose urban art enthusiast (or nerd?) Tom Gearing
to lead a depleted Adam Corbally, Jade Nash and Laura Hogg.
Gabrielle started her team off with the most germane piece of advice for how to speak with the artists: “show enthusiasm”. Since they could be in competition to represent their chosen artists, she was spot on that… wait for it… demeanour matters. Didn’t that point come up last week, as well as being the topic of my week 1 analysis? She also demonstrated good listening in hearing the Beefeater Gin team request art that reflected “their brand, London, contemporary themes and heritage.” The pieces she chose were spot on. Sadly, she committed one of the cardinal sins of a salesperson (and so-called “salesman Stephen” let her do it, nodding like the Churchill dog in the background). Gabrielle failed to ask what their budget was. For most of us, this question might hit pay dirt but probably won’t, but there is nothing lost if you try, and do so respectfully. For art buyers, it is the crucial difference between a small £500 piece (which she soured) and a massive £5,000 piece (that they wanted). Gabrielle chose to represent Nathan Bowen and Pure Evil.
Incidentally, Nathan Bowen’s images portrayed Union Jacks – a bit of a theme in this series, cropping up already in Episodes 1 (the tee-shirt designs) and Episode 4 (refurbished junk).
Since I can’t reasonably include images of the artists’ work – which I’d like to but respect for their copyright forbids me, I’ve made my own – an alternative candidate’s group shot at the foot.
… or, you can see an example of each artist’s work on my Apprentice Pin Board.
Tom knows a lot about urban art and he can name drop with the best of the urban art pseuds. Sadly, in talking with artists, he came across more as a nerd that an enthusiast. But he could spot what a commercial client wanted and this French car firm wanted to portray innovation. But could the art he selected for them deliver? Tom selected artists Pure Evil and ©opy®ight. Sadly, Tom’s need to show his knowledge was heavily trumped by Gabrielle’s raw enthusiasm and Pure Evil chose Sterling to represent him. As a result, Tom needed a new strategy. Just like the Chancellor (and just as wisely), Tom had no Plan B. Just like the Chancellor, he chose to roll the dice and go for a high risk strategy: Tom went for the artist offering the highest value work, knowing that one sale would win it, but without that sale of his work, Phoenix would probably lose. Tom selected James Jessop.
A Night at the Gallery
We saw some examples of good selling, astonishing selling styles (Adam making street market style work for him to be the top salesperson in Phoenix) and Stephen showing how not to treat high worth buyers. But which team sold the most?
Let’s look at the numbers…
|Corporate Sales||Gallery Sales||Total Commission|
* My rounding
So, Sterling won. They got the better artist and, despite Gabrielle’s failure to ask the corporate buyer for a budget and Stephen’s failure to treat the corporate buyers as VIPs (or even, arguably, with real respect) at the gallery, they sold a lot of art that made up for that.
Phoenix lost because they did not sell enough. Tom’s big bet did not come good, although, arguably, one more low value sale could have won it for them.
Lots to learn for both teams.
Fire one from three…
Tom brought Jade and Laura back into the boardroom for the showdown. Clearly, Tom’s demeanour and his risky decision were both instrumental in his team’s losing. Would Lord Sugar fire him for that?
The answer is “no”. He fired Laura and, rightly so, in my opinion. Her contributions have been spirited at times, weak at others, but she never looked like a leader, an innovator, or a star performer. Tom, on the other hand, could go a lot further.
But why did Lord Sugar forgive two such blatant errors?
I think there are two important considerations that hold a valuable lesson for us.
First, Tom’s failing to impress Pure Evil with his enthusiasm, while showing off his knowledge showed immaturity. In other ways, however, Tom (one of the youngest – possibly the youngest at 23) is very mature for his age. In the boardroom we saw a calm, controlled and assured performance. He looks and sounds like an experienced business person for most of the time – more so than most of his competition.
Second, I don’t think his big bet was a mistake, and I don’t think Lord Sugar did either. Tom never resiled from it and took full responsibility for making it and for its consequences. His analysis was pretty sound: one sale and he’d have been the hero of the episode. He did, however, own up to his failing in his meeting with Pure Evil. There is nothing wrong with taking a risk, if the upside is big enough and you have calculated the odds. Lord Sugar knows that and it is an important part of successful entrepreneurship. I think that this event did Tom a lot of good. It certainly raised him up my list.
Indeed, both project managers went up a notch today.
What makes a good decision?
If Tom’s decision was a good one, despite failing to deliver the right outcome, what are the criteria for describing a good decision? Luckily, I answer just that question, in Brilliant Project Leader. Here is an extract.
There are three conditions for a “sound decision”. None of them is that the decision has to be right, however. Projects are uncertain ventures and you will make mistakes; it is part of the process. But if you respect these three requirements, you will limit the number and scale of the mistakes you make.
1. Evidence based
Project decisions need to be based on the best available evidence.
2. Sound process
Put in place a robust process for making a decision, which must involve a thorough analysis of the evidence and an opportunity to challenge and critique both the evidence and the analysis.
3. The right people
Decisions must be made by people with the right level of authority, the right skills and knowledge, and sufficient time to consider their decision.
“The alternative to evidence-based decision-making is decision-based evidence-making.”
Adapted from an aphorism I first heard from Tony Quigley