The OPPrentice - Episode 7

Posted 17 June 2011 by

"Trying to pin Jim down is like trying to nail jelly to a wall", said Nick memorably.

Jim can dole it out, but he can't take it at all. His formidable bargaining skills seem to be a one-way street. Whereas in an earlier task he charmed enough pants off people to open a new branch of M&S – most brilliantly getting an extra £10 off a pile of fillet beef after the deal had concluded, just by being cheeky – he utterly failed to negotiate when selling.

Thus in a howler that lost his team the task, by refusing to budge when it came to negotiating with a company that makes its money by negotiating discounts, he missed the point by a country mile.

The FIRO® personality questionnaire focuses on how individuals behave towards others and how they expect others to behave towards them. Analysing Jim using this questionnaire would no doubt reveal a difference between his 'Expressed Control' (influencing others, taking a position of authority) and his 'Wanted Control'. There's certainly a mismatch in his expressed desire to get money off and his ability to give discounts.

Speaking of howlers, those magazines were awful. Even for freebies.

'Covered': a really good concept, and one that was backed up by the focus group of young professionals they interviewed. Sure, there was one good article in the finished result, about the Apprentice waste-collection task, but it was immediately undermined by a tasteless picture of a distinctly uncovered cross-eyed busty model on the front cover, and juvenile caricatures of the kind of article its original strategy sought to counter.

That there were so many women involved in producing this Nuts lookalike was kind of shocking: perhaps they were inadvertently creating a caricature due to unfamiliarity. We were surprised, too, that Lord Sugar was so tolerant of the innuendo. But in the end, the old adage that sex sells seemed to allow the media buyers to fall back on familiar territories, and it won.

Similarly 'HIP Replacement' missed the point entirely. With a cover that looked like a 1960s knitting magazine and a title that was a not-so-clever pun thought of by the team leader, who completely ignored the focus group ('Cat Size', anyone?), which asked not to be patronised and talked down to, it's no surprise that the advertisers were distinctly unimpressed.

What is the point of using a focus group if you just ignore what they say? In 1972, research psychologist Irving Janis from Yale noted a phenomenon in groups whereby "the members' strivings for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action". This 'Groupthink' seems to be what is overriding the opinions of the target markets as represented by the groups they spoke to.

While Susan continually demands that people not judge her on her youth, that youth does often rear its head. "I've got millions of questions to ask them", she said of the elderly focus group. "Like, what do you do?" And again, belying her age, she whines that "it's not FAIR".

In the case of Glenn's firing, however, such a wail would have been appropriate: it really wasn't fair. Glenn didn't impress, but he in no way screwed up as badly as Jim. Lord Sugar's personal biases came into play again. This is something that we feel strongly about. In a previous series of the Apprentice, we told Management Today how Lord Sugar used only his "gut instinct" when picking the ultimate winner, Yasmina. "Personal impressions are made incredibly quickly in the interview room, and can have a disproportionate effect on a candidate's chances", we said back in 2009.

This time round Lord Sugar decided that because Glenn is an engineer, he no longer needed to be around (last week it was Edna's book learnin' that didn't impress). Of course this could just have been an excuse, but we think it probably reveals more than it conceals. How much better would it be for businesses if illogical biases and personal prejudices were abandoned in favour of the objective results of questionnaires designed and tested with scientific rigour?

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