Monday, May 23, 2011

Five Things I Learned From Watching The Apprentice

This Sunday was the season finale of the television series The Celebrity Apprentice.  For those who may not have seen the show, it is hosted by real estate mogul turned television star turned self-promoter Donald J. Trump.  On the show, Trump puts sixteen semi-celebrities through a series a business-oriented tasks involving significant product placement, pressure, and stylized drama.  At the end of each episode, Mr. Trump eliminates the weakest competitor with his trademark catch phrase "you're fired".  Despite its pretensions, I happen to find the show quite interesting (I won't give the ending away except to say that I disagreed with his choice of winner this season).  In addition to having certain train wreck I-want-to-look-away-but-I-can't qualities (Gary Busey), the show does provide some lessons on how to be a successful businessperson.  Here are some of my takeaways from the show:

1. Know your team:

One aspect of the show is that each week, each team chooses a "project manager".  The PM takes on the role of CEO for the week.  He or she is put in charge of the task assigned to the team.  The winning team's PM receives a cash award for his or her charity (even though some of the celebrities probably need the money for themselves [Richard Hatch] the point of the show is the raise money for charity).  The losing team's PM is usually the prime candidate for a good firing.  Thus, it is important for the PM to be able to control and direct the rest of the team so that they can be victorious.

One of the biggest mistake that players make is to become the PM the first week of the show.  During the first week, nobody knows anybody else, what they are good at (or not good at), what their skills are (or aren't).  This makes it very difficult for the PM to delegate tasks properly.  You don't who to assign the to do a graphic design because you don't know who is good at graphic design at that stage of the game.  A good PM knows his team's strengths ane weaknesses and assigns tasks accordingly.  The PM that first week is in the dark, however, on who can do what, and it often ends in disaster (i.e. Dionne Warwick doing her best snail impression on the cash register).

2. Know your boss:

If you are going to succeed in your business, invariably you will need to get into the good graces of your boss.  In the case of Celebrity Apprentice, your judge/boss is Donald Trump.  Obviously you need to know and understand what Mr. Trump values and what he dislikes.  For instance, if you are the sister of Michael Jackson, you know that you can do no wrong because Mr. Trump isn't going to denigrate you for fear of alienating your famous family.  Therefore, as incompetent as you might be, you will be allowed to come back onto the show after being fired regardless of actual merits.

3. Remember your oxygen tasks:

Oxygen isn't something that you need to survive.  Without oxygen, you die - plain and simple.  However, oxygen in and of itself isn't going to enhance your life beyond just keeping you alive.  An oxygen task is the same thing.  Doing it isn't going to cause you to impress Mr. Trump and win; however, not doing it is going to cause you to lose.  You need to remember to do these basic things like completing your task on time, making sure to put the company's URL on the advertising material, greeting Mr. Trump and the executives when they arrive at your event (although that last one can be overlooked by Mr. Trump if he really, REALLY wants you to win).  The point here is that you need to make sure you do all of the basics in order to not lose.

4. Don't accept responsibility:

It seems like if you screw up on Celebrity Apprentice, falling on the sword is the equivalent of "giving up" in Mr. Trump's mind.  When a losing PM goes into the board room and accepts responsibility for the loss, Mr. Trump is likely to interpret that as a resignation and you will end up on the elevator down to the lobby.  Of course, this is the complete opposite of what you should do in the real world.  Most normal people respect those who admit their failures and embrace defeat.  Most normal people don't respect those who try to "pass the buck" to others when something goes wrong.  Of course, on Celebrity Apprentice, passing the buck is interpreted as "being a fighter" and "showing desire".

5. It's not what you know; it's who you know:

One aspect of Celebrity Apprentice is the "fundraising task".  This is a task where the winning team is the one who raises the most money.  This usually involves the celebrities calling in favors from the rich friends.  Those with the richest friends tend to do better than those who don't.  In fact, those who don't have connections and can't raise any money end up getting fired on those tasks.  Therefore, it helps to have a deep Rolodex filled with deep-pocketed friends.

I am glad that Mr. Trump decided not to run for President.  That way, I know that he will be back next season to teach us all more lessons from the business world!

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