My New Year’s resolution: think “beautiful thoughts”

“Come on you old bag, get a move on.”

I didn’t actually utter these words. But I thought them – stuck in the queue in the bakers on New Year’s Eve. In fact, I think such thoughts a lot. Sometimes “bag” is replaced with “git”, and “old” may become “stupid”. But, other than that, I’m pretty much guaranteed to think along these lines when queuing behind someone that takes too long deciding what they want, or is too chatty, or fumbles with change, or wants to add one more thing, or enquires about the bloody custard tarts in the sodding window. Anything, in fact, other than hurry-up and go away.

So I’m going to try and not do this in 2015. It clearly does me no favours. After all, thinking negative thoughts – especially insulting ones – is barely an improvement on actually saying them. Sure, if my thoughts had been spoken out-loud they’d have been trouble. I’d have probably been (politely) asked to leave. But my body language was undoubtedly doing much of the talking for me: advertising my general detestation of humanity and polluting the festive aura imbibing that warm Southwold bakery.

Certainly, such impatience is detrimental to my mental and physical well-being. There I stood, a dark presence, within a friendly artisan-bakers on the Suffolk coast. Outside, the winter sun brightened the street and cheered the strolling families. Inside, the Christmas decorations bobbed gaily with every breeze from the busy doorway, and coffee-drinkers sat rosy-cheeked in the hubbub.

In fact, I’d turned up in a good mood. I parked right outside and was pleased to see my favourite sour dough still stocked. Yet my impatience with one customer – a small, sweet-looking lady in a smart woollen coat with a matching hat – had turned me into a brooding, stressed-out, monster: all because she wanted to ponder the options and create a bit of small-talk. Jeez.

That I can now see the problem as mine – all mine, not hers or the shop’s – is progress, of sorts. But that doesn’t help at the time. What would help when in the zone would be the injection of beautiful thoughts. It’s not enough to suppress negativity or just bite my tongue. Flowery niceness must live inside my head, not just on the outside. That “old bag” is, after all, an elegant lady: someone deserving of respect and patience. And her hesitations and chat was evidence of the joy she found in simple things, such as the overpriced pastries in this up-itself foody bread shop.

Of dear, my inability to sustain such syrupy thoughts for even one sentence suggests – not that I am innately nasty (although that might be others’ conclusion) – but that the remedy must be attainable. Too giant a mental leap is unreasonable, not least because it moves us into the realms of fantasy. We’ll simply disbelieve, and therefore quickly discount, thoughts that are too manufactured: especially if we’re genuinely pressed for time, and she is actually – when all’s said and done – being a bit dithery.

But it’s not beyond reason for me to see the positives, and focus on them. I could have been grateful it was only one person delaying me – the queue at Two Magpies Bakery can snake out the door on such days. I could have also noticed that the server was trying to be efficient, as well as engaged. She even passed a glance my way – showing some acknowledgement of my wait (a miracle in itself in many shops). So there was hardly a bakery-wide conspiracy to thwart my progress, despite the thick black cloud so obviously hovering just above this particular customer’s head.

What takes a little more effort is empathy. Actually stepping into others’ shoes and seeing things through their eyes. For instance, the lady seemed remarkably sprite for her age, despite her indecision. And she was smiling – suggesting happiness and age can go together (however unlikely the prospects are in my case). And she was well dressed, suggesting she was on her way somewhere that was important to her. Of course, this probably explains her quandary – perhaps she was trying to second-guess the preferences of others for her arrival gift, making this a tricky but vital choice involving different generations and fads and fashions that move on too fast (even in food).

Yet she was also alone, meaning that – most likely – this encounter was, in itself, significant to her. It was human contact: the abundance of which was one of the reasons I escaped the house on what was basically a minor, unimportant (and slightly selfish), errand. In fact, there’s every chance my passive aggression spoilt a crucial moment in this woman’s day – maybe even her year, given that I can now recall she was buying for others on a significant day in the calendar. What with my foot tapping and sharp breathing and my deliberately-hurried request to the assistant when the old bag, sorry lady, finally turned for the door with a “cheerio dear, and Happy New Year!”

Now I feel crap, which – of course – is the other major upside of trying to think beautiful thoughts (or at least, not negative ones). Thinking positively – or empathetically – helps you feel positive about yourself. The world feels like a better place, full of nice people. Who knows, I could have even joined-in her decision-making – perhaps helping her choose for the young-uns, knowing how fussy they can be as well as how mums can disapprove of too much sugary goo. Indeed, I could have made a new friend – putting a spring in my step and helping spread the positive charge of happiness that had been that bakery’s primary atmosphere prior to my arrival. It would certainly have been a better outcome than the one I ended up with. Again*.

*A postscript: while writing this article, someone posted this heart-warming though somewhat twee (sorry) Thai advert on my facebook wall (obviously thinking it would do me good), and I decided to order my good friend Roman Krznaric’s book Empathy, not least because I’d heard so many good things about it. All that, and it’s still only January 7th!

To those with “toxic” friends: a Christmas message

Ah yes, Christmas: giving, goodwill, family, friends. For many, the stresspoint of the season is family, with friends intended as light relief – those whose company we choose, rather than those we’re obliged to “enjoy”. In fact, the aim of friends is to support our self-esteem, while family – for some – can be the root cause of our insecurities: hence the tension.

Of course, we can change our friends during the course of our lifetime – especially when they start undermining, rather than supporting, our self-esteem. Yet the idea of actually dumping friends – as we would a girlfriend we’d grown tired of dating – feels like a newer phenomenon. The “toxic” friend has entered the lexicon only in recent years – with zeitgeisty articles describing the bitchy and poisonous associate that somehow fuels conflict within the group, while also being needy and insecure.

Those same articles offer tips on “dumping the toxic friend” – telling us such cleansings are good for our mental health. Perhaps these people bring us down through passive aggressive insults or snide remarks in company. Or maybe they’re just too nasty about people we value. Whatever: the need – states the advice – is to extricate ourselves or, more likely, isolate them.

But is that good advice? If friends are supposed to make us happy, will removing those that don’t make us any happier? My guess is it won’t, and we may isolate ourselves in the process. So is there an alternative? Well, we can forgive them – it’s Christmas after all. But that hardly solves the problem. It leaves us still battling with their toxicity and also seeking justification for such feelings. This potentially makes us the bitch against them – turning us into the toxic one! So why not man-up and tell them straight: please stop being so toxic?

Of course, this is far from easy, which is why it’s a step so few people take. Given this, here are my five tips on doing just that:

  • Make it a personal approach. Email is an appalling medium for expressing feelings – with the phone hardly better and text even worse. It has to be in person. Arrange a drink, or even buy them a meal – something nice that softens them up. Sure, it may look manipulative. But, through time and money invested, it’s actually showing you care. This relationship is worth it, it says – but I do need to talk to you about something.
  • Start with the positive. Going in guns blazing – spraying accusations around like gangsters taking out a rival-gang’s lair – will likely meet stiff resistance. In fact, we’ll probably get some accusations back, meaning we could discover things about ourselves we’re happier not knowing. So our approach should be measured – strategic (i.e. focused on the objective) – which means using that management classic the “shit sandwich”. Here, we state the positives – you’re a great mate and we’ve had some great times etc. – before tackling the issues (see below), although swiftly moving back onto positive territory once done. Don’t linger on the “shit”. Get it out there – say what needs to be said – but put something nice either side.
  • Focus on your feelings. How you feel is undeniable. It also takes you away from the “you said” “you did” style of accusation that can have them firing back defensively, as well as denying obvious truths, which is hardly where you wanted to get them. If they accept that your feelings are legitimate (which most people will – see below), they’ll also likely absorb your concern that their behavior makes you feel bad. Certainly, focusing on your feelings is a stronger approach than the overly-sanctimonious attempt to “pull them up” for their behaviour.
  • Assume they’re a good person. This is a difficult one – especially when in the teeth of the battle – but it’s absolutely in your self-interest to assume they’re a good person that’s erred rather than a bad person that’s been found out. Most certainly, that’ll be their self-view. So focus on ways that support this view – that help them to be the good person they perceive themselves to be.
  • Notice the empowerment. “Ditching the toxic friend” sounds empowering, but it isn’t. It’s actually highly isolating. It disables your actions because you now have to “avoid the toxic friend”, which can be hard work. Ultimately, their toxicity is your problem, not theirs. So by tackling it – several times if necessary – you’ve become the empowered one. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I cannot recall any battles won by running away from them. Those tackled and won, however, are fantastic supports for your self esteem. So take note.

Unfortunately, as people age, making-up with friends is that much harder. We’ve our own family commitments, and work pressures can result in less time with friends and less tolerance for any toxicity. Fine, but advertising this intolerance as a positive is perverse, in my view, although – I admit – it took time to get me to this point. I now realize that such intolerance puts our life into reverse. Slowly, over many years, we start operating in decreasing circles. Having abandoned one toxic friend, we’re more tempted to abandon others – perhaps by focusing on new friendships: from the neighbourhood, say, or the kids’ school. But we’re hardly the winner, as evidenced by Australian nurse Bronnie Ware.

Her work at a hospice meant counseling the dying, where she noticed that most mentioned the same regrets in their final hours. She eventually wrote a book – the Top Five Regrets of the Dying. At number four, right in among the desire to have expressed themselves more freely or sought happiness over achievement, was the wish that they’d “stayed in touch with their friends”.

And, with modern generations encouraged to express themselves – and with such a focus on personal happiness – my guess is lost friendships will have climbed the rankings by the time we’re the ones in the hospice. Luckily, Christmas offers us an opportunity to reach out – via a “season’s greetings” email or message-laden Christmas card – allowing us to extend the hand of friendship without staking too much pride. Perhaps we could arrange that drink or meal in which we can – face-to-face and via the shit sandwich – tackle the toxic friend. We may regret it if we don’t.

Happy Christmas!

Out in March: Outside Edge – How Outsiders Can Succeed in a World Made by Insider


The Cereal Killer entrepreneurs and the Channel 4 drive-by shooting

I’m often asked why I went into PR rather than pursue my primary skill of journalism. For many PRs, the reason for moving to the “dark side” is due to money. The wages are assumed to be better, although that sometimes hides the fact opportunities for journalists can thin-out once over a certain age.

Yet that wasn’t my reason. I’m that rare creature in PR (at least according to the prejudices of many journalists). I’m someone committed to advocacy. What’s more, I’m committed to the advocacy of business – primarily because I think business needs defending from the sometimes-crass economic illiteracy of some (though by no means all) journalists.

Of course, as banks and multinationals roll from one scandal to another I can find myself questioning my core assumptions. Yet every now and again I witness the sort of journalism that reasserts my absolute belief that, fundamentally, business is a good thing, and needs defending. And that too few journalists realise this.

I prime example occurred on Channel 4 News this week. Usually a programme I admire, their reporter Symeon Brown retreated into the “all profit is evil” type of claptrap that has me shouting at the screen and feeling vindicated in my career choices. Brown was interviewing the owner of a hip new restaurant in London’s Brick Lane: world epicentre of hip new eating trends, as well as some struggling with changing tastes and demographics.

The restaurant in question is the Cereal Killer Café, owned and run by the Keery twins: two likely lads brought up in the wrong part of Belfast yet risking all to bring their venture to a spot where such ventures are appreciated for their novelty. In fact, the Cereal Killer Café is one of those remarkable businesses where you immediately exclaim: “why has no one thought of this before?” It’s so simple it’s brilliant. The twins – both sporting the improbable hipster beards that are de rigueur for the area – have brought together the world’s breakfast cereals in one café: charging £2.50 to £3.20 a time.

Genius! Yet that’s not how Symeon Brown saw it. He was sceptical – quite rightly, given that he’s a journalist. Yet, as a man branding himself a senior research and investigations reporter, his scepticism seemed somewhat skewed. Not for Brown penetrating questions on the Keery brothers’ business model. Here, there are questions aplenty. Is their extended supply chain (involving perishables sourced globally and sold in small portions for minimal amounts) not too stretched given the scale of operation? Also, is it not a novelty offering – meaning that the idea’s shelf-life could be limited to as short a fashionspan of those hipster beards? And what about scaling up? This is hardly a patentable idea, meaning that rivals could quickly roll-out versions in other hipster hangouts (Brixton, Brighton, Manchester etc).

All good questions – worthy of an interview. Instead, however, we were treated to this gem from Mr Brown: “Do you think that this [the £3.20 he failed to pay for his bowl of imported novelty cereal] is affordable for the area?”

Gary – the poor twin having to tackle this jaw-droppingly daft question – responded by saying he thought it was “cheap for the area”.

Brown went on to point out that the borough they were in (Tower Hamlets – a borough that includes Canary Wharf, note) was one of the most deprived in London, and that three pounds would be unaffordable to many “local” people. Gary then tries to engage in a normal conversation with Brown regarding the area’s demographics before quickly realising he was being led into a trap and deciding to stop the interview.

Brown then looks at the camera, somewhat shyly, though it’s clear he’s pleased. After all, he’d got what he wanted – the holy grail for television interviewers: the walkout. Indeed, Channel 4 News decided to make this interview a highlight of the programme – several times previewing it in a “coming up, the amazing moment when….” kind of way. They’ve since posted it as a “must see” moment on their website and they’ve uploaded it onto youtube, showing that – as far as the editors of Channel 4 News are concerned – the boy Brown done good.

So there it is: why – in a single one-minute video – I went into PR. Entrepreneurs such as the Keery twins need defending from journalists such as Symeon Brown.

I’ve known Brick Lane for 30 years and it’s never been such a vibrant, successful, happenin’ place as it is now. It is young, new, edgy, alive. Cereal Killer Café will be employing people, buying services and paying rates: all wonderful news for a deprived area. What’s more Brick Lane is part of the tangle of streets from Spitalfields to Hoxton that have been converted from desolate wastelands 20 years ago into one of the most productive parts of the UK economy – thanks in no small part to people like the Keery twins.

Once calmed, Keery was able to gather his thoughts and write an articulate and witty response to Brown on the café’s Facebook page. I hope it works. By that, not that it will “go viral” and increase footfall at the Cereal Killer Café. I’m sure it will. But that Symeon Brown and the good people of Channel 4 News reflect on the idiocy of their approach to a small business trying to make a go-of-it without the sanctimonious infrastructure of a state-funded TV channel, the backing of a major news corporation (ITN) or the gilded self-actualised moral-certainty of being able to pursue careers distanced from the economic realities most people have to face every day.

Brown was using a camera as a weapon for a drive-by shooting of something he found offensive: people using their graft and creativity to generate profit. It was an appalling abuse of power and he deserves censure. My guess, however, is that it’ll end up in his trophy cabinet, along with some of his more laudable work on excluded minorities in inner cities.

As for the question. Gary’s answer that it was “cheap for the area” was spot on. The “reporter” paid £3.20 (in fact he walked out without paying) for one of the more obscure items on the menu. Indeed, this is very reasonable. The cheap-n-cheerful Aladin Restaurant on the same street offers starters from £3.50, so the imported bowl of specialist cereal is well-priced compared to them. Bread at the nearby Fika (a Swedish hipster hangout) costs £3.50 a portion, with starters mostly £4-5. Most foodstalls on a Sunday (when Brick Lane is a market) sell street-food for £5 a portion. And the famous Brick Lane Beigel shop (not a smart hangout by any means) sells filled bagels from £3 upwards. Meanwhile, Pret a Manger (there are at least three branches nearby) offers porridge at £2.82 a pot (if eating in). It’s their most popular item (selling 3.2 million pots a year), which fits in nicely with the café’s £2.50 standard price for most bowls.

In fact, my guess is that margins are pretty tight for the Keery twins, as they often are for start-ups. Nonetheless, they’d clearly done their homework regarding where to pitch it price-wise, which is more than can be said for Symeon Brown.

Out in March: Outside Edge – How Outsiders Can Succeed in a World Made by Insider

Is Brand the “psycho” in claret and blue?

I’ve always been rather proud of West Ham’s higher-than-average celebrity following. All the more so because, unlike – say – Chelsea or Manchester United (or even Liverpool), West Ham isn’t a cup-winning club attracting famous supporters for that reason. Rather, it’s a local football club that happens to be located in an area generating lots of high-achievers. All those celebrity fans are not a reflection of the club, as such, but of East London’s traditions in music, drama, comedy and sport (all working class routes to notoriety). And that gives their support an air of authenticity, even if – as with Ray Winston, Danny Dyer, James Corden and even Keira Knightley – that authenticity might be a handy part of their public persona.

That said, I sincerely wish West Ham’s current most high-profile – and certainly most vocal – celebrity supporter would follow someone else, not least because he so poorly represents the area’s values. No, I don’t mean White Van Dan, the Rochester flag flyer that “amused” Islington MP and dinner party doyen Emily Thornberry. His aspirational patriotism somewhat typifies “estuary man” even if – secretly – we’re happy not to have him living directly next door. Yes, I mean Russell Brand – someone so noisy about the Hammers that his erstwhile wife paraded for the cameras in skimpy claret and blue underwear and who, more recently, broke into the post-match TV interview area to land manager Sam Allardyce a great big smacker after a particularly heartening victory.

Brand really is clinging to the claret and blue for authenticity. By that, I don’t mean he’s a fake fan (who am I to judge that?), or even a fake estuarial lad (the accent’s genuine enough). Just that I can’t help perceiving something disingenuous about the man himself – a hard-to-pinpoint deceit that’s well hidden behind a West Ham scarf, an estuarial accent and a comic persona. Certainly – given his upbringing among the highly-individualistic White Van Dans of Grays – there’s something not quite right about his “man of the people” act and chirpy revolutionary rhetoric, even if it fits well with his smart-set socialite inner circle.

In fact, in my view, Brand shows psychopathic tendencies – at least according to Robert D. Hare’s now famous shortlist for psychopathic traits. As professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, Hare developed his inventory of 20 traits (known as the PCL-R checklist), although has since become concerned that the test can be over-applied, over-simplified or misread. Yet, even noting these caveats, it’s difficult to read the list with Brand in mind and not tick-off a good number of the traits.

Here are the full 20 traits:

  • Glib and superficial charm
  • Grandiosity/overblown self-worth
  • Need for stimulation
  • Pathological lying
  • Cunning and manipulation
  • Lack of remorse or guilt
  • Callousness/lack of empathy
  • Poor behavioural controls
  • Impulsiveness
  • Irresponsibility
  • Denial (of poor behaviour)
  • Parasitic lifestyle
  • Sexual promiscuity
  • Early behavioural problems
  • Lack of realistic long-term goals
  • Failure to accept responsibility for own actions
  • Many short-term marital-type relationships
  • Juvenile delinquency
  • Revocation of conditional release
  • Criminal versatility.

See what I mean? Indeed, this goes well beyond labelling Brand a political fraud or a hypocrite, something he was charged with after slipping away from recent anti-capitalist protests to attend swanky celeb-parties. It also goes beyond the ridicule he receives for his trite cliché-ridden gobbledygook (the “Parklife” send-up being particularly apt as was his recent Plain English Foot-in-Mouth award for talking nonsense).

It says that, behind the nice-guy man-of-the-people mask, hides a potentially darker person. In fact, the mask slipped this week. He was being mildly ribbed for his expensive tastes in London property by reporter Paraic O’Brien on Channel 4 News, yet reacted with anger and insults. It was uncomfortable to watch, although it also triggered a memory that helped me reconcile Brand’s clearly troubled background with the potentially psychotic pursuit of his political agenda.

It dawned on me: Brand is like the original hooligan character in The Yob. In the very likely event you’ve forgotten The Yob, it was a 1980s Comic Strip yarn that parodied The Fly. Instead of a man transformed into an insect, however, the story focuses on a pretentious music video director Patrick Church (Keith Allen) who mistakes a matter-transportation pod for a port-a-loo at a UB-40 concert – resulting in him unknowingly swapping his brain patterns with that of the football hooligan in the next cubicle. Soon his urbane pretensions are replaced with violent urges, hate-filled racist abuse and the need for rough sex with his bemused (though initially somewhat excited) girlfriend.

Yet that’s not who I mean. The other half of the story follows the hooligan’s transformation. This coarse, talentless and poorly-educated building-site worker is altered even more radically by the swap. Soon he’s growing out his skinhead haircut and reading The Independent instead of The Sun while ignoring the ribbing from his workmates. In fact, he quickly becomes distanced from his cultural roots as he battles the confusion caused by his new thought patterns. Slowly he realises what must be happening: there’s only one possible explanation, he thinks, for his sudden mental elevation. He must be the messiah.

Yes, Brand’s well aware of this charge – even naming a recent tour the Messiah Complex. Very clever that eh Russell – adopting the insult before others can throw it at you (bit like his Parklife parody, in fact)? But that doesn’t disguise the fact Russell Brand is capable of displaying messianic, even psychotic, tendencies that I think are at least in part explained by the mental confusion of being lifted from his constrained – even deprived – circumstances and thrust into the limelight for no other reason than his own apparent and outrageous chutzpah.

Among over-confident and potentially psychotic revolutionary “leaders” he is, of course, in good company. Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Napoleon: all were charismatic outsiders from humble beginnings. They all went on to hijack countries in turmoil – leading them to national disaster while killing millions in the process. Meanwhile, Brand’s hijacking of the radical left is well underway. And, who knows, we could well find ourselves in the kind of turmoil that proves so fertile for dynamic, compelling but unbalanced commanders of the people’s conscience. I just hope he takes off the West Ham scarf before the shooting starts.


The Apprentice: James a dickhead? Yes, but that doesn’t make Roisin an entrepreneur

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.

Out in March – The Outside Edge: How Outsiders Can Succeed in a World Made By Insiders