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.

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There are probably some fairly bad taste jokes to be cracked in the context of psychometrics about ‘not knowing your own strength’, and I’ll try to avoid them. But as psychometric instruments go, the Hogan Development Survey is different in identifying those strengths that can, indulged to excess, undermine us. Sometimes referred to as ‘The Dark Side’ rather than ‘The Development Survey’, it will help to keep in mind that the reference is to the less desirable aspects of our personality that may escape our ability to control or conceal them when we are living or acting under pressure.

Pausing to exhibit my capacity for mangling metaphors (even when not under duress), this isn’t so much a matter of a double-edged sword as a flip-side. Nor is it about avoiding going to extremes: some behaviours – passionate, excitable enthusiasm is important in driving or inspiring others – don’t benefit from being over-moderated. It’s not that this is something to be avoided – a lack of enthusiasm isn’t an improvement – rather than recognising what too much of it can be like not just for the individual but for others, and how it might demonstrate itself in stressful situations. There’s a big difference between The Duracell Bunny and The Moody Diva, and not just in how cuddly they are.

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Many things have been said about talent over the centuries, and not just by wise men or women: in selecting the quotes that follow shortly, I excluded many that contrast talented with genius (and often revealed a tragic lack of modesty). Many of these comments have focused on the application of this charismatically abstract and elusive attribute. Geothe commented that “Great talent finds happiness in execution”, Balzac that “There is no such thing as a great talent without great will power”, Irving Berlin that ”Talent is only the starting point”, and Nero – sadly better known for his violin playing than his leadership – that “”Hidden talent counts for nothing.”

There’s little dissent from that view that talent is always an asset. But while any organisation (or, of course, any right-thinking individual) would want to be confident that they can make the best of ‘A Good Thing’, there is a more basic initial difficulty – not so much of “knowing a good thing when we see it” as of knowing whether what we are seeing is or isn’t A Good Thing.

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An article by Carly Chynoweth in the October issue of People Management, Endurance Tests, makes me wonder if the business world has finally come out of a coma. Glancing at the patient’s notes, I notice the first piece of evidence:

… assessments are now being broadened to cover all levels of organisations; talent-spotters are no longer assuming that future leaders or relevant talent can only be found in certain pools of employees” 

OMG, really? They’ve only just discovered this? No wonder organisations have been struggling though the recession. Continuing to scan, the evidence mounts:

Organisations are looking to identify leaders earlier in their careers so that they can equip them with the skills and exposure that they need to progress through the organisation faster… companies increasingly look inward when succession planning.”

Doctor, I’m afraid it’s worse than we first thought. We may have to operate.

…organisations now want the data presented to be aligned with the employee’s capacity to deliver in the role, or against the organisation’s strategy.”

Nurse, we’d better inform the relatives – time is of the essence …

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