2005-02-05

Apprentice 03.03 - The "Jeckyll and Hyde" Act Continues


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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."

Previously:
Net Worth: The Street-Smarts
Magna: The Book-Smarts
Apprentice 03.01 - BK 101: Revenge on the Nerds
Apprentice 03.02 - The Motel from Hell


I had forgotten what the early weeks of Apprentice are like. At the beginning it's all about weeding out the candidates that don't belong there in the first place. Unfortunately you come into the show having recently followed last season's closing weeks where the real talent is.

To recap: In week one, Net Worth had it all together and enjoyed a solid win, while Magna was divided and in chaos. Last week, Magna worked well together and won big while Net Worth couldn't seem to stop fighting. This week we were back to the week one format with a smooth Net Worth and disarray at team Magna.

There were fireworks even before we found out what the mission was. Verna, who took flight last week, is back and apparently spent much of the next day in bed as Danny tried to bolster her spirits. Despite appearances to the contrary, Verna whispered (because she didn't seem to have the strength to talk) "I definitely have inner strength to stay here and stick with this." I've got to admit, I hate that "inner strength" line of b.s. It's one of those touchy-feely things people trot out when they don't want to offer anything tangible.

Danny mobilizes a "support group!" An Apprentice first, and hopefully last. The "Unbelievable" guy continues to demonstrate that he just really doesn't get the Apprentice. "We're here to support Verna in whatever you do." He goes on to tell her that if she wants to stay home and not participate in tomorrow's mission, "that's OK!" This outrageousness finally inspired the rest of the team to abandon the politeness they displayed when Verna returned last week and let her have it. To echo them ... What's the Point! If you're not going to do the missions why are you here?

Verna left, which is a little diappointing. I would love to have seen how Trump would handle someone calling in "sick."

The Mission: Each group is given a budget and must execute a marketing event for Nescafe. The winner will be the team that creates the most "buzz" and excitement as evaluated by two reps from Nestle.

Summary: Bren nominated Danny to take charge of this one at team Magna. After all, it's a marketing task and Danny is the creative, "out of the box" guy. Unfortunately, as in previous weeks, when given a task any more detailed and important than "go paint a room," Danny doesn't even seem to know what to do or how to attack things.

Michael, holding an exemption as last week's winning PM suggested a European cafe theme. This was the first and last constructive bit that he would offer his team this week. He rode his exemption hard, being a thorn in Magna's side at every turn. At his best this week he was doing nothing. At his worst he was actually detracting from the team's efforts.

Meanwhile, Angie volunteered to be PM for Net Worth and the group seemed fine with this. The team quickly came up with an "All American" theme and set to work mapping out a public event that would follow this theme.

Both teams were competing for the attention and taste buds of the average person walking around their area of New York that day. To get and keep attention, both went with giveaways. Net Worth had a drawing for $10,000. To be included in the drawing a person simply had to taste one of Nescafes hot or cold choices. Magna gave away iPods every hour.

Magna never really was able to come up with a distinct theme, or attention-grabbing idea. Early on they hired an event planner for $50K - the lion's share of their budget. But not early enough. Stephanie tracked down a planner and got the quote. But when it came time to pull the trigger on hiring the planner, Danny balked, tried to take a vote, and then finally hired the firm at the last second.

Net Worth's event was a smash. People enjoyed themselves and stuck around to take in the Nescafe promotion, including the All-American hot vs. cold debate.

For Magna, even through the execution of their event there was little unity, llitte coordination, and anything of value was being done by the firm they hired, not by their team.

Results:
The guys from Nescafe weren't nearly as dynamic as a lot of the guests Trump rounds up for his missions. They felt that both teams had gotten out their premium brand message, but that Net Worth "took it to another level" and came up with a creative idea.

Net Worth won and was rewarded with a luxury helicopter ride around New York complete with champagne.

Magna united in the decision to ignore Michael's exemption and push him for firing. While Trump gave that idea some ear time he never backed off of his stance that Michael had an exemption. When questioned and in debate, most of the group conceeded that Danny was responsible for the loss, but felt that Michael's general lack of integrity in abusing his exemption over-rode that and warranted immediate firing. Stephanie was most vocal in her criticism of Danny for being unable to make timely decisions.

Danny brought Michael and Stephanie back into the board room, and essentially moved himself into checkmate with this decision. Trump and Co. wouldn't consider Michael for firing because he was exempt, and Stephanie, while being part of a losing team, was nowhere near as cupable in this loss as Danny was. I don't know if the results would have been different if he had chosen someone else, but Danny left the Donald no alternatives to firing him, and joined Verna as a week 3 casualty.

Analysis:
Magna is two members short now, but much stronger. In Danny and Verna they got rid of their two most unpredictable, unreliable players. Unfortunately, in the process they outed another problem in Michael. More on this later.

What was Verna doing on this show? From what we saw, I think her problems go beyond "just couldn't hack it." She displayed signs of a chemical imbalance, perhaps even clinical depression. As to her dramatic, "I realize what's involved in walking out at the 11th hour ..." line. 11th hour? Lady! The sun is just rising on this game. You're out before you were ever in.

I've got to admit that I'm liking Bren more and more each week. He hasn't had the opportunity to do anything significant yet, but his insights are almost always spot on. I'm very curious about his putting Danny up to be PM. If it was, as he said, because he thought Danny was the logical marketing guy, then perhaps I'm overestimating how bright Bren is. But I suspect this could have been the Sam gambit (season 1) where you take your loose cannon and put them in a position where they have to show their cards. If they have the goods they'll deliver a win. If not, they are in a position where they'll likely be fired.

For Net Worth, was Brian the disunity catalyst? Last week there were smaller pockets of division on the team that didn't involve Brian. None of them were present this week as the team once again united behind their leader and attacked their task in coordinated and inspired fashion. It certainly appears that getting rid of Brian was huge for this team. I suspect that there are one or two pretenders (maybe Craig) hiding out under the radar right now. But as a team Net Worth is looking good once again.

I don't really understand Michael's thinking this week. In the board room he contended that the team rejecting his European cafe idea was what put him on the sideline in this one. It was obvious from the start that he wasn't taking this mission seriously. That is disappointingly short-sighted thinking. The fact that you can't be fired this week doesn't mean you won't still be creating impressions in the mind of Trump, Carolyn and George. The exemption doesn't mean that your actions will cease to affect your relationship and ability to work with the other members of your team - something that is key week in and week out. Michael may not have been fired this week, but he is now Public Enemy No. 1 on team Magna.

We didn't see a lot from Alex in this one, but he continues to be one of my favorites. When Danny was trying to take a vote on the event planner, Alex rightly confronted him and told him to make a decision.

I can't say I totally blame Magna for trying to usurp the exemption and take out Michael. After all, it wouldn't have been the first time that Trump deviated from the show's format. But they should have thought better of it for a couple of reasons:

1. Michael was not the cause of the team's failure in this mission. By now you have to know that the first thing the Donald looks at is who is responsible for the loss. And when it is as clear is it was this week, the person who is responsible is going down. Caused a failure beats out generally bad every time. Another thing to remember is, Trump is constantly evaluating you. Even in the board room he is looking at each player's instincts in how well they are able to assess the failure and its causes. Only Stephanie helped herself out by being able to identify Danny as the cause of the failure and to cite specific reasons why. Everyone else was too wrapped up in the Michael crusade to take advantage of an opportunity to show intelligence even in the face of failure.

2. If you think it through, it is unlikely that Trump would fire someone with exemption. This designation is intended as a reward to inspire candidates to step up and be Project Manager. The first time you fire an exempt player it loses much of its allure.

My gut tells me that Danny's success in business outside the Apprentice has resulted largely from him taking the path of least resistance and maintaining an aura of ultra-creativity. It's the "I'm not lazy, un-focused and lacking in direction - I'm really so brilliant that you can't even see or understand how brilliant I am," model. Clearly he was on the Apprentice for entertainment value. Twice he was put in positions where he was assigned a critical and specific task, albeit ones which should have played right into his "creativity." In each case he falied miserably and demonstrated not only no leadership, but also no creativiy and no real business talent.

For all of his bull-headedness, Michael hit the nail on the head: "Danny is not a great advertising person or a great leader." It only took two devastating losses for Magna to realize this.

I say devastating because the damage in this loss goes beyond having to appear in the board room and lose a member. Magna has once again shown Mr. Trump chaos, disorganization and disunity. This loss took each member down a notch in the esteem of the Donald and his team.

Outlook:

As we are seeing, these early weeks are a minefield and full of unexpected turns. We don't know much about several players yet, and there's no shame in that. Laying low while the wild cards are sorted out isn't a bad idea.

Strong:

John (NW) - John is the only player in the game who has performed exceptionally well in a leadership role and not, at other times, done or said something blatantly stupid to tarnish that image.

Close Behind:

Alex, Bren (M) - Both guys seem to consistently have good insights, but haven't had the chance to step into a primary role yet. My guess is that Alex is going to go far in this game, and Bren has that potential as well.

Neutral:

Angie (NW) - NW's win this week was all team effort. Angie performed well as PM, but for NW that role was not pivotal this week. I still sense some weakness in Angie.
Kristen (NW) - She has potential, but also some interpersonal and style issues with other members of her team which could be her undoing.
Audray, Tara, Tana, Craig (NW) - All were commendable parts of the team this week, but we still haven't gotten to see or hear enough of them to make an evaluation.
Stephanie (M) - Twice she has been in a visible role, and twice she has been thwarted by Danny's poor leadership. Shows some good insight. Now that Danny is gone, she'll probably become the team's designated Marketing / Creative guru so we should get to see her worth very soon.
Kendra (M) - She has shown a couple moments of intelligence but we just haven't gotten to see that much of her.

Not Helping Their Own Cause:

Chris (NW) - He actually had some good insights this week. But! His tendency to shoot from the mouth without thinking is becoming more and more apparent each week. That can be a fatal habit.
Erin (M) - Confronting Verna was the first and only level-headed contribution she has made that we've been able to see. She continues to come off as a brat with little to offer the team. She was a key player in the board room assault on Michael - thus another opportunity to demonstrate original and clear thinking was lost.
Michael (M) - He came out of last week looking like a champion and managed to fritter that whole gain away in one week. He's not "stick a fork in him" because, having been PM last week, he is not likely to be PM and not likely to be the cause of a team failure any time in the near future. So, he's got time to regroup, but he must act quickly to smooth over relations with his fellow team members.

Stick a Fork in Them:

There really isn't anyone who is beyond saving right now. Michael is close, and if he were to somehow wind up in the board room next week after having been in a position of responsibility his chances would be slim. But, as mentioned above, he'll probably be able to duck out of the line of fire for a couple of weeks.

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