The Apprentice 2011In this week’s The Apprentice, we saw two teams do almost equally badly – one had to win, but neither deserved to.

Something seems to happen to people when they become Project Manager on this programme and most of them lose their ability to communicate fully. I wonder if it is those that retain that ability who are most likely to progress in the process. Neither of yesterday’s PMs would qualify.

We had Vincent leading Logic – or the “Dog Team” – and Glen leading Venture – or the “Cat Team“. �Glen gave the editors a gift early on, labelled “pride goeth before a fall” when he described his suitability for the task:

“we do that (design) on a day-to-day basis”

Both teams split into two groups and in both cases, the PM seemed wholly unwilling to hear what the other team was saying. If they had, we could have seen two first-rate marketing campaigns. �Instead, both were terribly flawed.

Spoiler alert

Let’s look at what happened one team at a time…

Team Dog (Vincent and Logic – later renamed “Tragic” by Lord Sugar)

After brain-storming ideas, they came up with their “Every-dog” concept. �Not a bad idea, except they would be taking on all the biggest players plus all of the supermarket own-brand cheap-as-chips (or mashed dead animal) products. �A niche would allow an easier market entry, I suspect. �However – flawed though the idea was,unlike Lord Sugar, I don’t blame Jim. �Yes, it was his idea, but Vincent seized it. �That wasn’t wrong either.

What was wrong was when bulldozer Vincent heard clear, direct advice from his focus group not to go for a one-food-feeds-all approach and then managed to un-hear it. �Incidentally – his team-mate, Thomas (in the other subteam), also challenged the strategy robustly but was ignored. �This is the second time Thomas’s challenge correctly identified a key flaw in his PM’s strategy – last week he equally wanted to examine the location strategy for the beauty salon and was ignored. �I’m tempted to a little side-bet on the geek. �He’s clearly bright and a thinker – maybe he read my Lesson 2.

Suffice to say team Dog’s strategy was a dog, all because Vincent failed to listen to two voices of reason.

Team Cat (Glen and Venture)

I’ll admit to being surprised that they won (I did warn you there’d be a spoiler) but I put that firmly in the “the editors know how to misdirect the audience” category. �Glen’s hubristic comment turned instead to be a fair assessment – the packaging was well-designed and the choice of cat name in the advert as Ruby, so complementing the classy pouch colour was great. �Contrast that with the tacky-looking insipid green Dog-food tin of Team Dog…

Lord Sugar complemented Team Cat on getting a good strategy of going for a niche, but how good was Glen? �The truth is that any failing will, in hindsight, be an obvious reason for the failure and if Glen had gone for the absurd “Lucky Fish” branding, he may have been held up to ridicule in the boardroom. �But really… �”Cat-size” and “see the light” were just awful.

Glen’s weakness as a leader became evident when he absolutely failed to entertain a discussion about the relative merits of the two branding strategies. �Whether his decision was right or wrong is immaterial (he was “right-enough”) – any leader that ends up with two factions glaring at each other via a dead phone line has lost it.

All credit to Glen then for not doing the easy and comfortable thing of staying with the same two sub teams for day 2. �By re-shuffling the team, he gave himself a real opportunity to re-build his team and, though he seemed only partially successful, he did win – despite a bad advert and one of the worst pitch performances I have ever seen.

Leon’s Pitch

How much can we blame Leon for a dreadful platform presentation when the team actually won?
The topic got missed entirely in the boardroom.

Like Leon, I suspect Glen picked him as an insurance policy, so he’d have someone to take into the boardroom if Team Cat lost, but Leon was foolish. �He let his doubts about the product and his emotions about his role rule his head. �He had five hours to prepare. �FIVE HOURS. �That is a lot of time – he thought it too much: I say “what a gift.” He could have/should have honed his words and performance with constant practice. �One hour of drafting could have left him eight cycles of rehearse-feedback-re-draft. �He showed a real flaw here – in character as much as presentation skills.

But back to the fundamental point: whilst Leon must take the blame for his embarrassingly embarrassed performance, Glen could have done so much more to gain Leon’s confidence and support a better performance – by listening to his colleagues and winning them over rather than running them over with what did turn out to be the better brand of the two that entered the boardroom. �Leadership is more than just making the right decisions – for all Glen knew the result could have hung on Leon’s pitch.

Apprentice Lesson 5

Listen hard and recognise that, whilst you may have the final decision, you may not have the greater wisdom.

And have respect for other views and show that respect in the way you listen.

Apprentice Lesson 6

Yup – a free extra one today, since Lord Sugar gave us a free extra firing.

If you have a pitch or presentation to give, use all the prep time you have and rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.

Brilliant Project Leader

I’d love to send all the contestants a copy of Brilliant Project Leader. �Yesterday afternoon. I finished doing my own edits prior to sending it to the publisher in a few days. �Re-reading it fully and then seeing The Apprentice a few hours later made me extremely proud of what is in it – so much practical advice that the contestants could use. �Almost every section describes what we see them not doing! �It’s due out in the autumn (the current publication date is in�early December).

Not a moment too soon.

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