2005-01-21

Apprentice 03 - Magna: The Book-Smarts


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I believe that there is much to be learned about human nature, business and success from NBC and Donald Trump's hit show "The Apprentice." Therefore I'll be blogging along with each step of the "16 Week Job Interview."

Just a month ago, Kelly Perdew wrapped up Apprentice 2 as Donald Trump's newest employee. Now we commence the third 16-week job interview and Donald Trump is mixing things up. Where previous versions have started out men vs. women, this season pits a team of high school-educated, "street smart" hopefuls against eight college-educated, "book-smart" contestants. To add fuel to the fire, Trump announced at the opening that collectively the high-school educated team earned 3x what the college-educated team was earning. Both teams seemed unable to let go of this in the early going.

It should be noted that the previous two Apprentices were both college educated. And, while there have been some successful high school-educated contestants; Troy in season one and Stacy in season two, it was clear that the lack of knowledge and refinement that comes with a college education ultimately was their undoing. Education alone won't do it, however. Both Perdew and Bill Rancick, season one's winner, were pitted against better educated foes late in the game. Both rode their combination of education, street smarts and experience to victory.

Notes on the Book-Smarts:

The college-educated team chose the name Magna, as in Magna Cum Laude, highlighting their educational achievements. Ironically, Magna Cum Laude is a second-tier honor which is trumped by Summa Cum Laude. This dovetails with Magna's showing in the first challenge.

Now here's what I hate about the start of any reality show where strangers are thrown together. Everyone comes in posing as the ultimate team player. They laugh way too hard at everything that is said, and even the lamest ideas that their teammates come up with are called "brilliant" and "phenomenal." Never has this behavior been more in evidence than during Magna's name-choosing meeting.

Danny, a Marketing Tech Firm owner seemed destined to be a catalyst from the moment he stepped off the elevator in Trump's executive suite clad in a leisure suit with a guitar slung over his shoulder. High School educated, Tech firm owner, John said it best:
"The guy in the leisure suit obviously dances to the beat of a different drummer and apparently that drummer loves polyester."
Danny immediately stepped up and volunteered to be the team's CMO - Chief Morale Officer. To prove his worth he yelled out, "Unbelievable!" as his suggestion for team motto. Magna would embrace this brilliant idea straight through their first defeat.

After the first episode, it is obvious that this team is in trouble. In the promos and early comments, Apprentice 3 is being staged as a battle between street smart entrepreneurs and a bunch of over-educated, privileged bookworms. For team Magna it is as if the network went out of their way to find applicants true to that billing.

Bad attitudes abound. There is zero unity. And, during their first trip to the board room, everyone except Kendra ganged up on Danny, unsuccessfully. Later on in the show a failed coup will be no big deal - a weekly part of doing business. But this early, having Danny on board after the attempt on his Apprentice life will only add to the team's dis-jointedness. I won't be surprised if this team manages to put together a string of impressive losses until Trump is forced to re-shuffle the teams to restore balance.



Individual Book-Smarts: (note: evaluation of individual players' chances assumes that they have been portrayed accurately, but also recognizes that exaggerations may well be edited into the show to boost entertainment value)

No Chance to Win:

In the opening, Erin states that she is out to "show all the male chauvenist pigs that they're wrong and that a woman can be sexy and powerful and smart." She is none of the three, by the way. But the bigger problem is that none of these things have ever been an issue on the Apprentice. The prior two seasons have hosted a number of very attractive, very successful women, and several have done well on the show. Erin has signed on to fight in a war that doesn't exist.

Meanwhile she doesn't appear to have anything of value to offer her team. During mission 1, she was overmatched by the point-of-sale terminal at Burger King and she spent more time pulling her hair out of her eyes than selling burgers. Several of the tableaus featured her wearing a pink, frilly, wrap type garment that only allowed one of her arms to move.

After Alex suggested "Cornerstone" for the team name ... Erin: "Too long, or something." That's Erin in a nutshell.

Bren, one of two bowtied contestants (c'mon guys, you can't follow Raj's act ... and one wonders why you would want to), wasn't as visible, but still managed to establish his uselessness. His idea for team name: "Shiznit." Had he persuaded the team to go along, he could possibly have become the first contestant fired for their role as PM of the name selection effort. Bren has no illusions. He calls himself, "a little man with a big mouth." On that his self-awareness is unparalleled.

Then there was Danny and his guitar, judging team names by their musicality and leading Magna, at least those who didn't have the courage to risk the impression that they weren't behind whatever the team did with 120% enthusiasm, in a sing-along. Danny was a board room target and only the fact that Todd more directly contributed to the team's failure saved him. Though he's still around, Trump's leadership team has already indentified that Danny doesn't have the juice.

Danny casts himself as an "out of the box" guy. He strikes me more as someone who uses the illusion of being "out of the box" to disguise a lack of motivation, talent and creativity. Even his explanation of the success he has experienced in business makes him seem more like a coattail-rider than a rain-maker. When commenting on team Magna's board room attack on him, Danny yelped, "I was the 'unbelievable' guy!" as if he was going to ride that nugget to a $250K executive position with the Trump organization. Apprentice 3 could well be the first time Danny has found himself in a position where he won't be able to slip through the cracks.

Real Potential if they can survive a few weeks on this team:

Though he went quickly from riches to rags in Trump's esteem as PM Todd brought him back into the board room, I predict that Alex will bounce back. He's a sharp attorney, and one of the few on the team who appears to have solid practical business instincts. My one reservation: practicing attorneys don't tend to do well on this show. Jennifer from last season doesn't count - she established her unfitness early, and held on by virtue of everything but business skill. Still, Alex is one guy I'm rooting for on this team, if only out of sympathy.

Verna comes off as a street-smart candidate who somehow wound up on the wrong team. She is educated but probably possesses 90% of this team's combined common sense. Her attitude is a bit questionable right now, but you can hardly fault someone like her for having a little attitude while being stuck on team Magna. We haven't had a chance to see her expertise, but her street-smarts make her invaluable right now.

Though we haven't seen much of Kendra so far, a brief display of board room brilliance won her approval from Carolyn (which I don't think should be underestimated) and demonstrated that she gets the bigger picture. While the rest of the team was ganging up on Danny, Kendra shared her opinion that Todd, and not Danny was the key to the team's failure in the first mission, with one of the reasons being Todd's failure to properly manage Danny. As I shall discuss more in my post on episode one, of the eight Magna members, only Kendra properly assessed Magna's performance and results in the first mission, and I think this scored points with the Donald.

Obviously, with the first mission over, I now know that Todd doesn't belong here, but initially he stood out as one of the few non-dingbats on Magna. Unfortunately, Todd was "hands off" on a team where "hands on" was needed. I think that in a different situation Todd would have had more to show. Unfortunately he broke, before it had even been established, my cardinal rule for survival on Team Magna in the early going: don't be PM!

In order to survive, the hopefuls really must avoid stepping up to lead until the teams are re-aligned. Magna is unmanagable in its current form, and is collectively lacking in the practical business skills that will be tested repeatedly in the weekly missions. To don the mantle of Magna PM right now is suicide. Any time the team fails, poor management will be one of the factors making the PM a prime target for firing. This will be less a reflection on the PM, and more an indication of how impervious the team is to leadership.

Case in point: When Todd was fired this week, it was the first time a PM has been fired in week one of the show. Only the quality leaders seem willing to step up early on, and there is usually enough incompetence scattered about to draw fire away from the PM.

Can't tell yet

We didn't get to see much of Michael. One might argue that on this team that is grounds for immediate membership in the "real potential" category. I'll wait and see.

Also on Apprentice 3: Apprentice 03 - Net Worth: The Street-Smarts

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