The most startling moment of this episode – officially called, with blinding insight, Flat-Pack – happened a few minutes in, and I’ve been trying to have my retinas repaired ever since. Earlier in the series than usual, The Apprentice played the ‘everyone was relaxing at home on a day off, with a camera crew – as you do’ trope, and the remaining 14 contenders (I use the word loosely) suddenly found themselves with thirty minutes to reapply the bling. Girls scampered along luxury corridors, hectically searching for trowels so they could re-do their eye make-up. Meanwhile, not content with flashing his abs at us in a towel last week, Myles decided that the most appropriate way to behave on camera in a men’s dorm is to wiggle across our eye line in a thong. In a programme with no audience voting, I was left wondering which bottom line he was most eager to demonstrate familiarity with. His own, possibly? Fundamental mistake there, Myles. Oh well, maybe he was just showing us his best side …
Thereafter, the jokes continued to phone themselves through. These week’s challenge – delivered, please note, without any fanfare about its central importance to the economy or any other brouhaha – is to design, prototype and pitch an item of flatpack furniture, with a maximum RRP of £75. Before the phrase has left voice-over man’s lips, I am already thinking ‘yep, strictly two dimensional’ and ‘a child of five could do it’ (and the related jokes). But can 14 children aged between 22 and 39 do it? By the time you are reading this, all bets are off. Do not call now: you may still be charged and your opinion will be disregarded. (For those struggling with maths, the RRP limit is slightly more than half of the TV licence fee you have already paid to be seeing this.)
The one with the brewery. There’s no need for a spoiler, is there? Lord Sugar even utters the immortal line, although you’re made to wait about 47 minutes for it. It doesn’t constitute either suspense or surprise. And given that most of us recognise the human ability to make a fool of ourselves over alcohol (this is a blog, not a confessional, let’s keep things general …), mixing fifteen idiots and a brewery was always going to be a little predictable. Oh well, down the hatch …
It’s 6am in the Apprentimansion. Jason is wearing the kind of stripey jimjams that would make most viewers over a certain age (or of a certain disposition) think of Rock Hudson. Luisa’s Doris Day impersonation, meanwhile, is way off the mark. It’s the series’ habitual soft-porn/candidates-in-their-undergarments section, and the lads have got their tats out for the lasses. Myles impersonates an old Badedas bath foam advert for the cameraman’s benefit, but I’d have thought the chances of a seasoned film crew succumbing to his over-advertised charm at 6.02am were a little thin. Neil, episode 1’s gruellingly relentless back-seat driver, meanwhile reveals a physical quirk. Despite having one of those beards that disappears down his neck, his chest is as bald as his ambition. For at least one good reason, someone needs to deal with that man with a cut-throat razor.
I know, I know … a shameless attention-grabbing post title. But corporations, feelings and attention-grabbing are essentially the key points of what follows. A couple of weeks ago, I noticed a posting on one social media site (not linked, as membership is required) where one contributor had spotted a tweet on a corporate account, expressing how ‘stunned’ it/they was/were and how ‘thoughts are with’ those affected by the bombing of the Boston marathon.
What had fired them to repost it was a combination of a) a sense of ambiguity over appropriateness and b) the social conundrum of an organisation – when all is said and done, an abstract entity – tweeting an emotional response. I’m not going to play ‘name and shame’ – it’s not entirely clear to me that shame is a word to be used – but it was an interesting point: how can something that might be a legal entity but isn’t an organic, living and breathing one feel the sense of sympathy that someone within it has chosen to use a social medium to express?
I’ve often appreciated Dan Rockwell and his Leadership Freak blog – and not just for that double-take blog title. His most agreeable characteristic (to my mind at least) is that he remains prepared to ask questions of what he encounters in life, and not to think of assumptions as the mental equivalent of a comfortable old sofa. Assumptions – like faith – are best when they are tested and proven.
In a recent post, Three Qualities Traditional Leaders Reject, the first of his listed examples is as follows:
Traditional leaders are unwelcoming. Traditional leaders expect you to receive their ideas; they don’t receive yours. Power, prestige, and position thrive in unreceptive, threatening environments.
Tell-me-more leaders, go further than,
Stop looking down your nose at outsiders, front line employees, and new hires. Adapt to them; don’t force them to adapt to you.”
We’ve said it before, but leadership isn’t ‘being in charge’. That’s managing – and with the stick rather than the carrot. There’s a lurking danger of ‘all efficiency and no effectiveness’, and the managed need vitamins more than they need bruises.
Baden Powell once said that: “a Scout is never taken by surprise; he knows exactly what to do when anything unexpected happens” – a phrase that has drifted in from a less complicated era when life didn’t feel as threatening. It sounds idyllic but isn’t it also a rather deadening aspiration? To not be capable of being surprised? It seems to have drawn an assumption that surprises are always a bad thing.
There’s a school of film-making thought that argues that suspense beats surprise every time. One of the best known explanations came from Alfred Hitchcock talking about a hypothetical bomb under a table. (You can read the whole thing here.) Essentially, an audience gets suspense when they see the bag get left under the table, see the clock on the wall and then see the couple sit at the table and talk. If they don’t see the bomb get planted, they – and the couple – get a surprise. Apologies if explaining the simple mechanics of suspense has spoiled a number of films.
Life does not, however, take place at the movies. If working life does indeed have people called ‘Directors’, they don’t sit in chairs with megaphones shouting ‘Action’ or ‘Cut’. When did you last get offered a second take? Or get told that something can always be sorted out in the edit?
“Memoir is the most subjective genre and has the least duty to reality; but it still has some. If this remaining restriction is still too much for you – if you’d like to add and invent important things – then you should be writing fiction instead.”
These words come from The Arvon Book of Lifewriting: Writing Biography, Autobiography and Memoir. I read them after reading not only the last post here – which pondered the potentially dangerous seductive appeal of stories – but also an article in The Guardian about a newly released book written by the psychoanalyst, Stephen Grosz.
Drawing on a lifetime of experience (and clients’ lifetimes of experiences), Grosz uses stories to explore a host of themes – not least that:
All change involves loss, and yet life itself is change – we are always giving up something for something else. And the point is that we lose ourselves when we try to dent those changes, when we deny that life entails loss.”
Grosz freely accepts that he has drawn inspiration from short story writers, and in the interview describes Dicken’s Scrooge as “a great story of psychological transformation”. As a mere student of – and reader of – short stories, I couldn’t help but think that there are few stories that aren’t, at least to some degree.
I’ve several times in my life regretted my lack of knowledge or skill in science. Looking back on my childhood, it’s almost like I feel that in some way that I failed two men who – through enthusiasm, passion, a concern to inspire others to care and not a little eccentricity – inspired so many others to take their first steps into lives later spent exploring science and technology: Heinz Wolff and Sir Patrick Moore. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet both men, albeit briefly. Professor Wolff I encountered by pure luck in a University canteen queue, where the words “Wow, Heinz Wolff!” had escaped my lips before I could stop them. For the next hour, he tirelessly explained some of the ideas he was working on, improvising with cutlery and salt and pepper pots: it was my own personal episode of The Great Egg Race, and I still wish my head had the equivalent of iPlayer.
Professor Wolff, fortunately, is still with us, while Sir Patrick sadly passed away recently. My brief encounter came in early childhood, as my family holidayed near his Sussex home. I can still remember walking home with my father, eating chips straight from the newspaper, and stopping to peer at the telescope in his garden. Had we known the man himself was in his garden, we would not have dreamed of being so cheeky, but he spotted us and chatted charmingly and inimitably for several minutes. And when my father confessed my own dismal prowess in science as I was obsessed with music, Sir Patrick was visibly (and audibly) relieved that I was not perhaps a total loss to humanity.
Summonsed to a luxurious hair salon that was originally London’s barber’s salon, each candidate prepares in their own way: Lucy applies hair spray with the vigour of a woman with a grudge against the ozone layer, while Maria informs us that it’s very important to look good in business. Perhaps she’s in early preparation for her close-up, as this week the teams will develop a tv ad for a styling product (a £200m market, and that’s just Lucy), and then pitch their brand and their campaign to marketing professionals. (But not, it seems, styling product professionals.)
Complex reputational issue? Wrestling with the intricacies of public perceptions of moral conundrums? Perhaps a coffee will help? Or then again …
I am, of course, referring to Starbucks, who seem to be all over the press all of a sudden. I’m not – often – a Starbucks customer: I have no personal axe to grind. Why should I when I have a little Moulinex gizmo at home that does the beans just perfectly? Having read Howard Schultz’s Onward, I did not become a convert in the process. Appropriately enough, I found the book to be largely froth. But while I may be the sort to snort at a coffee chain inspired by the cafes of Milan that hasn’t the confidence to open a branch in Italy (and I’m self-denigratory enough to admit it), my reactions to the brand are not universal: branches are now pretty much ubiquitous. It’s possibly the idea of bringing us the authentic Italian coffee shop experience that sticks in my craw: although Starbucksmelody cites recent company announcements about stopping the use of cochineal in the Red Velvet Whoopee Pie as evidence of a listening organisation, I can’t help imagining what you might hear if you tried ordering that in a Milan piazza. I’m guessing you wouldn’t find it in your phrasebook.
These, however, are the gripes of those who do or don’t like the Starbucks experience. As they say on television, other brands of coffee are available. Possibly other brands of Red Velvet Whoopee Pie too. The company’s present predicament is much fuzzier. We are, of course, talking about tax arrangements. Or rather, different groups’ responses to the company’s decision to pay more corporation tax in the UK in future. At this point, it all gets very complicated. No amount of coffee made any of it make sense when I tried to grasp it, but let’s try to cover some of the groundwork …
Sometimes you can get a subliminal sense that someone’s heart isn’t really in it. Faced with briefing the candidates on creating a kids club ‘fun but entertaining’ license-able venture, Lord Sugar appears only by iPad. Understandable, however. I’m not sure I could face them at 7am, even with a luxurious get away car on standby.
Barely has the viewer’s brain had time to register the thought “Kids Club? Aren’t we already in one of those?” than His Lordship has intervened to mix up the teams. Platinum is now an alloy of Andrew, Ashleigh, David and Lucy, leaving Maria, Navdeep, Patrick and Steven to be Odyssey. (Did anyone else recall that the name is derived from the Greek for ‘trouble’? Just me then …)
Despite my evil, hand-wringing anticipation last week, the teams get to pick leaders. David and Maria both put themselves forward – David does at least have experience of tutoring small children – and Navdeep and Ashleigh are duly unanimously elected. An early lesson in reputation management there then … Ashleigh tempts fate by voicing to camera that “I’d have done anything to make sure David wasn’t PM again”. Not this early in the evening schedules you wouldn’t, Madam; now behave.