Why The Apprentice is very bad business » SMEInsider

Why The Apprentice is very bad business

BBC’s The Apprentice, now in its tenth series, is as addictive as ever. Millions still tune in every week to engage in a little boardroom schadenfreude, convinced that they could do better. Of course they could – because it’s a farce.

Here are the three biggest reasons why The Apprentice is nothing like the real world of business.

Real teammates are on the same side

Anyone who has launched a startup knows that, to make it work, you really do have to pull together. That means that your team shares in your vision, they pick up the slack for each other and they share equally in the company’s failures as well as its success. Individuals have to be able to take the initiative without fear of reprisals if it doesn’t go entirely to plan the first time around. Fingerpointing is futile.

This is the polar opposite of The Apprentice format, where at least one person is doomed to be kicked out every week. Such an environment obviously encourages team members to pass the buck, to be openly hostile to anything resembling responsibility and to avoid doing anything that could allow others to take the credit. It also stifles creativity, encouraging team members to stick to the most vanilla ideas to avoid getting themselves noticed if it doesn’t work out.

A boss that demanded to know, Sugar-like, exactly who was responsible for a project failing to beat its competitors in any given week would quickly create a toxic environment – and would see productivity plummet.

Great products aren’t really made in a week

Starting a business generally requires extreme flexibility, coolness under pressure, and agreeing to jobs first and figuring out how to do them later. However, when it comes to actually creating and pitching an idea that people will love, the process can take months, if not years.

There is a good reason that people set up businesses based on their skill sets and passions, rather than just the flavour of the moment: if you don’t really love an idea, it’s extremely hard to make other people love it too.

While the varied tasks put forward in The Apprentice are fun to watch (and, probably, fun to take part in), the idea that you could actually assemble a team of people who have no interest in a field or inkling of what they are doing and get them to design, sell and pitch a product to a high-end retailer in the space of a few days is clearly nonsense. A successful business takes passion and sustained hard work and it’s highly unlikely that you’d come up with a perfectly formed concept on the very first attempt.

In the real world, you pick your team

In its early days, The Apprentice would claim to be seeking out the best and brightest entrepreneurial minds. Funnily enough, it no longer seems to suggest anything of the sort.

Getting the best out of brilliant people and learning to manage tricky personalities is one of the best skills a leader can have, but there is a limit to anyone’s powers. Like many reality programmes, The Apprentice brings together the most narcissistic, deluded and unmanageable people it can find, intermingled with the odd reasonable person to heighten the comedy, then steps back to watch the sparks fly.

No small business in the country would seriously think of hiring people like these – and if you found that you had accidentally employed a person whose cluelessness was exceeded only by their arrogance, you certainly wouldn’t keep them around for long enough to ruin a pitch or screw up your product. Putting together a team you trust is a crucial part of running a small business, but one that is manifestly absent on the show.

Of course, trying to run a company full of people that just want to be running their own company is always going to be a nightmare scenario. It would be a fascinating experiment to see what would happen if Lord Sugar, Donald Trump and a whole host of other big name business figures were put together on a team together…!



  • Ben Wilson

    I think we have to realize it is only entertainment and only some learning can be taken from it. Leadership skills seem none existent in a room full of ego and profits never seem to take account of 6 – 10 peoples wages for the day, but hey it is what it is – entertainment; Like it or loath it.
    It could actually be good for businesses, to iron out these things that they see, that they do not like and change their mindset and team.

  • Pete

    To coin a phrase ‘I pity the fool..’ who takes any reality show at face value. I admit to having a particular distaste for this one as it has absolutely no bearing on real life as the article above clearly states. One has to remember it is ‘car crash tv’, watched by those who in many cases want to cheer themselves up and say stuff like ‘well I guess my job isn’t THAT bad..’ etc. when the latest hopeful is thrown to the lions and embarrasses themselves in front of millions.. Whichever way you look at it, pretty sad really..

  • LindseyKennedy

    Thanks Pete and Ben. The Apprentice exists, of course, for entertainment, but what’s interesting about it is the way that it caricatures some of the most unhelpful assumptions that people have about “what it takes” to succeed in business – arrogance, swagger, ruthlessness, etc. Those actually run a startup know that these are not the behaviours that will get a business off the ground, so as Ben says, it’s more useful as a terrible warning than any kind of example!

  • Richard John Francis

    I won’t add to the throng who have correctly highlighted it’s ‘entertainment’ value. That is the point here – endless entertainment. One day – the U.K throng so addicted to such pointless tripe will finally come to realise it’s actual significance on the twenty first century world’s stage. How big their country is – how much resource it can call upon – and hence what it needs to do to feed and clothe itself – and how much time left it has to do that. At that sobering moment – time to put down the remote control unit and get up off the sofa and make something seen…