So the tenth season of The Apprentice has drawn to a close and Lord Sugar has a new business partner in the form of Aussie Machiavelli Mark Smith.
Every year, the programme has me squealing with something between delight and pain at the faux pas and heat of the moment mistakes that the astonishing characters gracing the programme make. How the producers manage to find this combination of egomaniacs, maverick creatives and deluded Generation Y’s is beyond me, yet somehow they form a potent mix and make addictive viewing.
Aside from being a compulsive must-see for its sheer ‘cringe and yell at the telly’ factor, there is a lot to be learned from The Apprentice. Here are my key lessons from 2014, particularly directed towards new graduates, using the 20 candidates as instructional material!
1. Be willing to try new things
The only difference between the younger folk I work with at Universities and my older career-switching clients, is experience. The amount of time they have been on the planet and the variety of things that they have experimented with during that time. Age does not always mean range and breadth and youth doesn’t always mean naiveté. Yet on this series of The Apprentice, I detected a distinct lack of willingness to try new things. The candidates often bowed out of the chance to lead projects that were outside of their immediate comfort zone, most notably Soloman, who was specifically invited to lead the wearable technology task by Lord Sugar but ducked out saying his expertise was primarily in social media.
Being willing to try something new is important because you don’t know where your latent talents might lie until you try.
You may discover, to your surprise, that you have a gift for something you had never heard of, or derive huge pleasure from using a particular set of skills. I didn’t know what project management was until I joined the UK Government Fast Track, where I was trained as a PRINCE 2 expert. Though I never used this to deliver on IT installations, it has helped me hugely in my working life and enabled me to write my first book. Had I gone ‘sorry I am a history grad’, I would never have learned this.
Also, ‘the future belongs to those who embrace the transferability of their skills‘ to improve upon a sentence delivered by Ella Jade, another of the candidates. Have faith in the possibility that being a good communicator, organiser, negotiator, delegator, manager, innovator, just might be able to transfer over to a different sector or industry. With the future reality of successful careers shaping up to include a variety of jobs over a lifetime, the more adaptable you are willing to be, the more employable you are.
2. Mind Your Language
Perhaps one of the most classic moments from this series was when Bianca accidently gave away exclusivity for the whole borough of Westminster on her range of board games in exchange for a tiny sale to an independent shop – thus eliminating sales on Oxford Street, in Selfridges and Piccadilly and a whole host of other huge retail opportunities.
Words matter. There is a huge difference between a postcode and a borough or between a key product line and an entire area of service. In a slip of the tongue, Bianca ‘sold Mayfair for a fiver’ as Lord Sugar put it.
Words are the way in which we transmit the thoughts and beliefs of our inner world into the external world. They are the way we share our experience with others. And they are binding. Once the word is out there, it cannot be taken back.
In your new roles, I invite you to be mindful of language. Take time to notice the words people use to describe the environment, the characters, the business, the products and the clients. Listen closely to both what is said and unsaid and choose your own words carefully. Bianca was a very strong candidate and is a bright and capable woman and yet in the heat of the moment these mistakes are easily made – and this was a clanger.
In the first few months of professional working life, it is sometimes worth scripting what you want to say for key conversations. Sometimes, in my first roles, I became very tongue-tied because I knew I had a point to make but I didn’t yet have the language to influence my audience, or I became too emotional and used language that was alien or off-putting.
A careful choice of language can avoid you selling yourself short. Don’t do a Bianca.
3. Be Careful What You Wish For
Last but not least, we can take a lesson from our winner, Mark Smith. Mark was very good at maneuvering himself into poll position – whether this was the opportunity to sell the hot tubs that his chief adversary, Daniel had successfully negotiated, or having the opportunity to pitch his puddings to one of the world’s largest retailers.
Sometimes, nay, often, this strategy worked well for Mark. He made a phenomenal sale on the hot tubs and managed to secure his reputation as a top salesman. On the other hand, when he went to present to Tesco, his nerves got the better of him and he – to quote him in the Boardroom, ‘totally dropped his bundle’, being left almost unintelligible in an excruciating ten minutes under pressure.
So the lesson here, push yourself, be ambitious, try new things, but also be careful to find the line – don’t take yourself into highly risky environments that might just overstretch your confidence and current abilities and be willing to take measured risks and to forgive yourself when it doesn’t quite go to plan.
Mark was very clear from the start that he intended to win the process and I have seen over the years that the victors often are. This may be clever editing or it may demonstrate that those who set themselves a clear intent and a specific goal or direction tend to do better than those who do not. Mark has got what he wished for – a business with Lord Sugar – certainly impressive for the young man from the outback who came to London to seek his fortune.
So in summary, three key lessons to staying hired – keep stretching beyond what you know, be conscious of the language you use and make sure to ask for what you want and to learn from what you get!