Friday, September 10, 2004

Business Lessons from The Apprentice

The Apprentice season has just begun and the talk around the water coolers has already started. Who is the most outrageous? Who has the best chance of winning? Who is the best looking? It's the good, the bad and the ugly. I don't want to talk about that though. I'm more interested in some of the organizational behavior and business issues.

Two things struck me. One has to do with the dynamics of having the first project leader be of the opposite gender of the rest of the team. How fascinating to watch that play out! The other is related to the method by which the teams approached their project.

First I want to say, "Brilliant" to Trump or the producers who came up with the idea of having each same gender team send over one teammate to manage the first project on the opposite team. Great idea. On the male team, the testosterone was filling the room as Pam (who may have as much testosterone as the men) joined their group. Things didn't get off to a great start but once she told the guys to take off their ties in the Mattel boardroom, she seemed to be gaining a bit of control and respect. Unfortunately it went downhill from there. Her aggressive style was not accepted well by the men. Had she been a man, I suspect she could have pulled it off. The truth is that women succeed in leadership roles using different character traits than men use. Relationship and consensus building come to mind. The fact is, women who try to succeed with men by being like men usually find themselves being pushed aside. Men (and women too for that matter) are just not comfortable with it.

Over on the women's side, we had a different set of dynamics. Here we had a male leader who refused to trust his group of very capable women. Apprentice hopeful Brad could not accept that their idea might be better than his own. Even with 8 people telling him he was wrong, he overrode his team in favor of his own judgment. It took the male expert from the toy company to point out that his idea was flawed. Only then did he fall back to the women's winning concept. Also of note is that the women seemed to forgive him once he backtracked. I wonder if they would have been so quick to forgive the initial dictatorial act if the leader had been another woman?

The other issue that I was interested in was how the teams approached their project. Unless it was just a function of creative TV editing, both groups seemed to dive right in on coming up with ideas. (For those who missed it, the task was to create a new, marketable toy.) I noticed the same thing in last season's episodes as well. If it was me, I would have started not with the toy, but with the users of the toy. I would have had the group brainstorm what kind of toys kids like these days. What do kids want? What is cool? What is boring? Then we could have come up with various toy ideas that meet those criteria.

I'm hoping that the Apprentice teams did in fact go through some thinking process before diving into toy ideas and that it was just edited out. My fear is that it's the new Fast Company mentality of business. I realize that they only had a day and they had to work quickly but it seems to me they would have been able to work just as quickly and come up with better results had they focused first on the needs and wants of the customer and not on whatever ideas they could blurt out of their heads. Ideas need to have some foundation or context in order to be successful.

I suppose I shouldn't be too hard on the group since most of the apprentice candidates are lawyers and bankers and not business people per se. Last year the business entrepreneur won. I wonder if we'll see something similar this year.

Beth C.

7 Comments:

Blogger Dutch said...

I like your dig at Fast Company.

In both seasons, what passes for brainstorming is appalling. I guess teams under time constraints don't value market research; which seems to parallel my experience of operational teams as well.

Given Trump's reaction to Mosaic, I would re-brand that now.

I get a little ticked at trying to maintain the positive energy all the time. Conflict is a good tool to promote stronger teams. I think Brad's "executive decision" may have coalesced the women team because they had a common opponent--for a short time anyway.

I look forward to reading your blog as the show progresses.

Great Optimism,

3:59 PM, September 11, 2004  
Blogger Dutch said...

I like your dig at Fast Company.

In both seasons, what passes for brainstorming is appalling. I guess teams under time constraints don't value market research; which seems to parallel my experience of operational teams as well.

Given Trump's reaction to Mosaic, I would re-brand that now.

I get a little ticked at trying to maintain the positive energy all the time. Conflict is a good tool to promote stronger teams. I think Brad's "executive decision" may have coalesced the women team because they had a common opponent--for a short time anyway.

I look forward to reading your blog as the show progresses.

Great Optimism,

4:05 PM, September 11, 2004  
Blogger Kennette said...

I like your comments on the show. I also disagree with how they went about coming up with ideas for the toy. My first thought was to develop a quick questionnaire, and take the three or so questions to the people who would be using th toy, appropriate aged boys.

Take an hour to do some quick polling of the target audience. Go to a nearby location (toy store, fast food eatery, etc.) that might cater to kids, and ask the parents permission to do a quick toy related survey with their child. Ask them about their favorite toy, why it's their favorite, and what they wish a toy could or would do.

Take this info back to the hotel/office/room and brainstorm for a designated period of time, with this info in mind. Then, your brainstorming/ideas will be based on market intelligence. Coming at the project from an adult's perspective seemed to not be the most efficient use of time.

12:47 PM, September 12, 2004  
Blogger B. N. Carvin said...

Kennette,

Great idea about going straight to the source (customer) for market data. That is surely the best place to start.

I'm looking forward to this week's episode to see what other Human Resources and busines issues come up.

Stay Tuned!

Beth C.

10:03 AM, September 14, 2004  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To me, it's best to watch a "reality" show as if it were a cartoon, since that's as close as it comes to reality. These salivating up-and-comers are no more businesspeople than Heather Locklear is the manager of an airport.

You need to remember the dog that does not bark: the shoot. This stuff always happens in the presence of the camera crew, the mikes, the lighting. And, I suspect, the director calling "cut" and "take three." These things are scripted, all protests to the contrary notwithstanding. That's why you don't see the same proportion of older, less attractive, less fashionable people that you'd see on a walk from your car to your desk in any suburban office building.

These things are edited, because they're meant as entertainment. The producers don't have time to show actual thinking or even actual brainstorming. How boring is THAT?

I think you also make a mistake to think that the "teams" should have been considering the customer. This isn't business, it's a sports/entertainment event. All that matters for each game is that I (the individual) don't get fired. Period. Nothing else matters. Even if my team loses, as long as I myself don't get deep-sixed, I'm fine.

It's probably the right model for the typical CEO, but as Bosquet said of a famous charge by a famous cavalry brigade, "c'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre."

7:07 PM, September 16, 2004  
Blogger B. N. Carvin said...

Regardless of whether it's staged or real, there is still value (since it's one of the few shows about business) in using it as a springboard for discussion.

Beth C.

10:47 AM, September 18, 2004  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

good resource here. I would also link to yahoo auto

4:03 AM, October 29, 2005  

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