Ah, Jubilee time. Fireworks, flags a-flutter, and BBC TV series about that other fond memory of 1977: punk. (That jubilee coincided with my seventeeth birthday: specific memories are hazy, but bunting, sausage rolls and pogo-dancing were involved.) Our old acquaintance – in the Auld Lang Syne rather than the sedan chair sense – Peter Cook has already made the connection, understandably given his own Punk Rock People Management micro-book (and series at HRZone). So excuse me a little while I wax briefly nostalgic about what all that stuff about Mohican haircuts, bondage trousers and ‘No Feelings’ was all about at the time. (And I’ll try not to wax poetic about doing so with a Melody Gardot CD and a book about gardening at my right elbow. Everything gets old – even, pace Andrew Marr, bloggers.)

As the BBC’s Punk Britannia series helps to explain to those younger than me, the ‘explosion’ of Punk had a longer fuse than casual observers might have noticed. As a musical phenomenon, it had rather long roots – including the American garage bands chronicled on the Nuggets CD series, the New York bar band scene earlier in the 1970s, and British mod bands of the 1960s. “Here’s three chords, now start a band” is not only a popular misquote, but a misquote of a fanzine published long after a long, long fuse had finally connected with the powder-keg. Whatever it might have been, it was no epicentre of musical originality: even the Sex Pistols played cover versions. Versions shorn of musical finesse and infused with a splenetic vigour that was a deliberate assault on ear-drums attuned to the prevailing musical forms of the time, but cover versions none the less. (Were I so minded, there’d be a very bad taste joke about extra-ordinary renditions to be had …)


When one of the contestants on this year’s The Apprentice favourited one of our tweets about the series, we were flattered (we are human) and intrigued. As we’ve often wondered how the experience feels on the other side of the screen, we plucked up the courage to ask. And as – to our pleasant surprise – the contestant in question, Katie Wright, did not rebuff our request, we’re delighted to present below her answers to our questions about the series and her experience of taking part in it.

(You can also read Katie’s Personal Learning Profile in the Guests section of this blog.)

Our thanks to Katie for agreeing to take part in this Question and Answer session, and for her thoughtful and honest answers – and our best wishes to her in her future career. And if any other candidates from this year’s series are reading and would like to comment – or even volunteer for a Q&A Session of their own – we’d be delighted if they would Contact Us.

An obvious – and impertinent – question to start would be “What were you thinking?” Putting that more kindly, how did the experience of being on The Apprentice compare with your expectations? And how true a picture do you think the viewing public get of the candidates’ experience, given that it’s edited down to an hour? Did you feel like your contributions were represented fairly in what was broadcast?

The quick answer is ‘a momentary lapse of common sense’. The longer answer is that I wanted the opportunity to test myself. For years I had watched the show and ‘armchair audited’ the candidates. I knew it was always going to be tougher than it looked but rationalised that the pros must outweigh the cons.


So here we are at The Final. Even if I’m not entirely about the numbers (as my MBTI and other psychometric experiences confirmed), I can calculate on the spot pretty well for someone whose background and strengths are mostly on the creative side of the fence. So if time really is money, I  reckon this series has cost me about a grand at my going rate. Ok, it’s had its moments, but any sense of a meaningful return has been a little difficult to identify.

Nor am I entirely proud that I’ve reviewed the episodes as if I’ve been watching televised pantomime, but that is what much of the series has felt like: the reviews are at least honest. And few reviewers – except one or two written by people taking themselves rather too seriously (or trying too hard to sell their own services) – have treated the programme with much more respect. There has been wisdom on offer, but all too often it’s been Norman Wisdom rather than Business Wisdom. No disrespect to Nick Hewer, Karren Brady or Lord Sugar himself: I’m sure your intentions are entirely honourable and your hearts are in the right places. But a lot of the audience are laughing up their sleeves rather than taking notes. There also seems to be a consensus that this hasn’t been a bumper series: the candidates have neither shone with brilliance nor dazzled with ineptitude, and the format feels tired. (If you can’t be clever, be likeable and all that …)

Indeed, the format is now an ugly cut and shunt job. The title never really belonged: whatever the programme has ever been, a structured learning programme with constant mentoring isn’t it. The task format worked while it was about picking an employee, but has not been amended now that it’s about identifying a partner to invest in. As The Telegraph pointed out, this year and last year’s eventual winners were both the candidate in the final who had been on the losing team the most often. (Although this criticism also overlooks the factor that annoys me: the worst or weakest performance can easily be on the winning team, while someone else must be fired.) The selection process may introduce a ‘reality tv’ level of suspense into the series, but as a model of business selection criteria it needs a stern word in its ear. (Claude, do you have a moment?) As models for assessment centres go, It’s A Knockout is an unusual choice.

Interestingly, the ‘The Final Five’ and the ‘Why I Fired Them’ programmes gave the viewer rather more beyond slapstick and buffoonery than the actual episodes: they had moments of a sober reflective quality that reviewed business strengths and personal qualities in ways that the tasks themselves have not. And as Lord Sugar reminded us in them, the process is also about the person: as well as an investor, Lord Sugar will be a business partner with the eventual winner. Good luck with that, as they say. And are you sure you didn’t want that dog?

Anyway, here we all are at the Institute of Directors, and each finalist gets a couple of sentences to outline their business plan. Nick offers a one-click facility for any recipe on the internet so we can buy the ingredients in one fell swoop. Tom is punting a hedge fund based around investments in fine wines. Jade is offering a call centre the size of Wales. Or perhaps Nepal. And Ricky is proposing an ethical recruitment service aimed at the scientific industries.


Something a little different this week. No whiff-whaff or studied loafing in casual attire for starters: we’re back to the 6am call, inexplicably answered by someone fully dressed, and they’re whisked off to Waterloo Station. Sadly, they’re not asked to meet Lord Alan under the clock with the rolled Telegraph, red carnation and half-chewed wasp. Instead, he appears on a huge flatscreen in a basement tunnel, grinning unusually. I’m not sure if it’s meant to be disturbing, but it looks like Sid James appearing in a version of Orwell’s 1984. Perhaps he’s smiling because he could pre-shoot, rather than hanging about at Waterloo at that time of day with this lot. That would be understandable.

Anyway, this time the teams will be picking two urban artists to represent in cutting edge galleries – which turns out to mean Brick Lane again (presumably Whitechapel Gallery wouldn’t play ball) – and attempting to complete a sale to a corporate client, who they will meet to gather information for a brief. It is mere milliseconds before the voiceover, and several of the contestants, start mentioning Banksy. The art gallery-goer in me squirms a little, until I realise that’s the point.


We are, I’m getting the impression, having a human moment. At least, some of the online commentariat seem to be. Umair Haque – whose Betterness: Economics for Humans was an intriguing read – is pondering the socio-economic reboot most people seem to be muttering about us needing, and directing our thoughts to starting with the purpose. Or, as he put it his Next Big Thing blog post at Harvard Business Review:

I’d bet the farm, the house, and the Apple shares on the following proposition: Our institutions are failing not merely because they’re bankrupting us financially, but because they’re bankrupting us in human terms — that, having become something like Alcatrazes for the human soul, they fail to ignite within us the searing potential for the towering accomplishments necessary to answer today’s titanic challenges.”

This is heady stuff, ripe with the whiff of heavy lifting undertaken in the search for meaning, or ways of creating and unearthing it. Umair is adamant that the first great concern is with what makes us “searingly, painfully, achingly, enduringly, joyously human” – not with enhancing productivity or efficiency. As he argues, we’ve been pretty inventive at those over the centuries – even over the last few years (imagine how bewildering today would look if you stepped directly through a door from, say, 1987) – but it’s a lot less clear-cut as to what we’ve ‘solved’ has been what most needed fixing.


Our blog has crossed paths – or perhaps run in parallel with – Peter Cook of The Academy of Rock/Human Dynamics/Punk Rock HR on several occasions, and happily so. Closer attention on my part to one of his recent blog postings – Let’s pretend we’re married – Getting engaged – was sparked by what some people now seem to call ‘life events’, in that I’ve recently done the latter and am in the middle of planning what is now being referred to at home as The Big Day™.

For me, the pun of ‘engagement’ is so easy and obvious, but I’m not convinced that I believe the parallel between pro-actively participating at work and pro-actively participating at home is a realistic or fair one. I appreciate that the changes we’ve witnessed in modern life might mean we superficially look as if the opening stages – carefully crafting and positioning an online profile that shows you as the ideal candidate, while simultaneously reviewing the profiles of others to try to read between the lines and ponder the curious omissions – are fairly similar.
But even this overlooks inconvenient differences. Some have been more attractive than others, but no future employer has ever caught my eye across a crowded room and made my heart skip a beat. Nor have any suitors requested that I submit my CV to a third-party consultant for vetting and appraisal, or sit a series of psychometric tests. (Although the latter might have meant that one or two cases of terminal incompatibility came to light before the waiter brought the coffees.)


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