I’ve been a bit stressed lately (it’s that time of year), which may explain why my wife and I had a mild disagreement over the outcome of The Apprentice on Wednesday night. In short – when it came to James Hill’s firing – I thought I spotted professional bullying. Meanwhile, my wife thought I was defending ”a bit of a dickhead”.
Of course, I was. But I saw something of myself in that “bit of a dickhead” and – contrarian that I am – thought he’d been unfairly treated by those knowing they could verbally outwit him.
For a start: since when did being a dickhead stop you being a successful entrepreneur? There are those that would cite dickheadery as a common attribute among entrepreneurs due to their inability to fit-in with standard workplace hierarchies and practices. Good for them. In fact, many become entrepreneurs because they lack the silver-tongued polish of the professional classes, which excludes them from lucrative mainstream careers – such as the law or accountancy. That said, such exclusion can be highly motivating when it comes to the cut-n-thrust environment of entrepreneurialism.
I guess this forms part of my on-going objection to the entire structure of The Apprentice, and the fact the process was intended to source an able leader for work within a big organisation: a long way from the attributes determining a successful entrepreneur. That’s why snakes do well – they’re good talkers and great back stabbers. While cheeky chappies such as James and Daniel Lassman are disliked (at least going on Twitter feedback), though are the more-likely entrepreneurs.
Think I’m being too hard on the ice-cool Roisin Hogan: she who wielded the knife on Wednesday’s show? Well, here’s her “quote” on the BBC website: “Manipulate, persuade, conquer. I would identify opponent’s weaknesses and pick them off one by one”. Sorry Roisin, but that sounds pretty snake-like to me. And how does that make you an entrepreneur, exactly – rather than someone adept at climbing the greasy-pole of corporate life?
So the youthful but enthusiastic James was put to the sword by the slick professional Roisin. His somewhat defensive clumsiness when dealing with others (a trait I can empathise with when feeling belittled) led him into a trap sprung by the better-educated professional. For the kill, she used her greatest weapon: articulation – leaving Lord Sugar with seemingly no choice but to “with regret” fire him.
Make no mistake: being inarticulate did for James. This is odd because I live in a part of London known for its entrepreneurialism (and was even where Sugar started out). Yet it’s an area jammed full of small businesses run by men and women with only the haziest grasp of English. Again, it’s their very exclusion from mainstream careers that made them such strong entrepreneurs. That said, many are being put out of business by the likes of Tesco, a multinational company run by articulate professional graduates that look, sound and act very much like Roisin and Mark Wright (the other candidate that makes me want to add the epithet “snake”).
Finally, let’s deal with James’s seemingly fatal mistake of calling the hot-tub business owner by the wrong name. Yes, I agree, a mistake. But it’s a mistake that everyone, at some point, makes. Come on, be honest, have you never gotten someone’s name wrong? I have, on several occasions. I hate it and feel embarrassed. But, usually, I’m put right immediately and – with my humble apologies – we move on. The great Dale Carnegie would wince at the error, but would also surely note that – unless there was already a prejudice against you – it’s unlikely to kill a deal. Indeed, he’d even view offence at the error for what it was: vanity – even pomposity.
What such mistakes are, however, is a jolly good chance for an opponent to stick-in the knife. Given this, my feeling is that James didn’t tell his team because he didn’t want to give them that chance, which – given the nastiness fostered within all the candidates by the Apprentice process – is hardly surprising.
Ultimately, it was James’s rough edges that meant he lost out to the smooth-talking professionals. What he needed – as he pointed out in probably the most heartfelt and genuine speech of any Apprentice candidate ever – was guidance. He was crying out for a mentor. In firing him, Sugar not only showed that he was uninterested in mentoring (disavowing the show’s very name). But that, he too, fell for the age-old trick of the professional classes: of using all that training to verbally destroy less-articulate opponents.