December 26, 2004

The Apprentice

What better to do on Boxing Day before taking care of leftover food, than to watch a few television shows or films. As such, Iíve just finished watching the second series of the Apprentice, arguably the only reality show ever created with any real substance.

For the uninitiated, here is the NBC blurb:

"The Apprentice," [features] 18 candidates from all walks of life, including both Ivy League MBA graduates and street entrepreneurs with no college education. Each week, they will endure rigorous business tasks while living together in a hip Manhattan loft apartment. Prominent Fortune 500 companies were enlisted to participate in many of the tasks. The tasks will test their intelligence, chutzpah and street-smarts. They will face the challenges of living in close quarters and must complete sometimes humorous, but always difficult, job assignments and will be forced to think outside the box in order to outshine each other to get to the top…And, each week, one person will hear those dreaded words — "You're Fired!"

So basically, itís vaguely akin to Big Brother, only in a business environment with candidates who have qualifications. For each assignment, the players were split into two teams with the losing team entering business mogul Donald Trumpís boardroom where one player would be fired. All the participants were smart people but at times made what seem to be pretty basic errors; clear even without the benefit of hindsight.

Iíve just jotted down some general lessons one could draw from the show; some of which are applicable to real world situations.


  • Education is great, but experience in the application of knowledge is far more important.

  • One can progress by blending in with the crowd, free riding on the efforts of others but consistent effort over time is preferable. This gives one a pool of achievements to draw on in future, allows one to gain hands-on experience and gains you respect.

  • Good performance, in absolute terms or relative to others acts to reduce the importance of flaws which are present in every organisation and every individual.

In the boardroom:

  • Maintain a good relationship with others on and off tasks but be prepared to exaggerate your abilities and to bring out recent and past accomplishments whenever possible.

  • Always be prepared to disparage the efforts of others and highlight the faults of others.

On leadership:

  • When in a position of leadership, delegation of responsibility and reliance on others is critical, but be sure to check the progress of others on a regular basis.

  • Collective wisdom is valuable, but be prepared to override group consensus if the collective view is clearly at odds with common sense.

  • Don't entrust valuable decisions to those with clear character flaws. Leave creative decisions to the creative minded, operations decisions to the practical minded and mundane tasks to whose who are unstable in some way.

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