The Palazzo - binoculars required
Zero doesn't mean none

The Apprentice - Toys

Sorry, I'm a bit late with this.  The first series of The Apprentice continues on BBC Knowledge on Monday nights, and this is week two.

Usual introduction.  This time Sir Alan tell us that Nick and Margaret are going to stick to the teams like glue.  Hmmm, that could be tricky.  Anyway, the task is to design a toy and Matthew thinks that the boys are "going back to their strengths.  What are they?  We are men.  The toys we are designing should be aimed at boys."  Right.

Lindsay is the girl's project manager.  She's going to talk to the team about how she sees her role as project manager.  Well, that sounds promising. 

Both teams go to a toy company called Vivid Imaginations and meet the marketing director.  Miranda feels the need to ask a question.  "Your designers, when designing a new toy, do they tend to stick with an adaptation of a classic toy or do they completely kind of throw the boundaries open and really start, yeah, start trying to come up with something 100% original?"

Toy company woman goes into patronising mode: "It's a really good question" she says (of course it isn't).  "The toy industry is a really good mix of both of those."  Unlike every other industry, then?  Lindsay starts pointing pointedly at her watch.  "Sometimes there are classic games and play patterns that are timeless and culturally will work across the world, so you can use those. But ideally you are always looking for innovation."  Well, gee, thanks.

The boys choose Raj as their team leader.  The girls are running around an unidentified town looking for a toy shop (this seems to be what passes for research).  Saira is on the phone to Lindsay with their recommendations:  "Something trading so people can swap things with.  We are looking at something magnetic.  Something very puzzly that appeals to both boys and girls and the prices are under $10".

"Interesting, interesting" says Lindsay (who has obviously picked up some tips on giving patronising answers).  "We've got something along those lines.  If they do, we never get to hear any more about it.   

The boys are still in the toy company offices, brainstorming.  Their idea is an electronic version of Top Trumps.

The girls have lots of ideas.  Something that plugs in like an electric plug, and does different things depending upon which way you plug it in (how many ways are there to plug in a 3-pin plug?).  Text messaging for young children using ten different cards with flags on them.  A kit for building robots that then fight with each other, and bits fall off.

Saira likes the robot idea.  They all like the robot, and the electric plug.  Lindsay looks at her watch again.  Then she tells them how they voted (as if they somehow didn't know) and says that they are going to spend the next half hour talking to an expert.  Hey, Time Management skills.

Nick isn't an expert, but he thinks it's extraordinary that they should be designing a toy that looks like a 3-pin plug when children are always told not to play with electricity.  Do you know, I think he may be right.

Rachel is now talking to the expert, and wants to know "if it would be possible, or dangerous, potentially, to have live electricity flowing through that toy."   Miriam wonders if there might be health and safety issues.  Well, er, yes. 

Did they really need to ask those question?

Anyway, now we are off to the focus group (some children).  The robot idea seems to be popular, but Lindsay is still keen on the semaphore thing that the rest of the team voted down.  She wants an opportunity to pitch it to the team again, because, perhaps she didn't explain it very well.  She decides to get the designers to work on both concepts, and then in the evening she tries to persuade the team to go with her semaphore idea (now called 'Secret Signals').

Ominously, we see Lindsay talking to camera - she thinks everything is going very well "in pure business terms".  She goes on: "I find that a lot of the management styles or leadership styles that I am using are just coming together, and seeing my own behaviour in a much better light than I think I have probably behaved in the past."  Cruelly, this is intercut with the rest of the team being rather unkind about the way Lindsay is running the task.

Day two.  Lindsay is still determined to "keep the options open" and asks Miriam and Saira to prepare two presentations.  They are not happy.  It is becoming clear that Lindsay's management style is simply to tell people to do whatever she thinks is best.  This is what some people think leadership means. 

The girls are now going back to the focus group to find out which of the toys the children would choose.  They prefer the robot, but of course Lindsay insists on continuing to work on the semaphore idea as well. 

Later, Lindsay asks them to vote.  They have 100 votes each, and the verdict is 340 - 260 in favour of the robot.  Incredibly, Lindsay claims they are split and that she wants to "take a risk" and go with her idea.

They do the presentations, and then Toy Company Boss calls Sir Alan.  He liked the boys' product, but he thought the girls' idea would never sell.

But wait, there seems to be a problem.  Sugar thinks that the boys' idea is quite similar to existing products.  I couldn't see it myself - handheld electronic products are not a new idea, but neither are games that involve cards.  Anyway, he gives them the benefit of the doubt - and of course they win.  Lindsay is going to be fired.

Her defence is all management speak and no passion: "I went through the process of undertaking the task in the most logical and organized way I could and we delivered something I believed in, and that was the best I could do".  The irony is that if she had really been logical she would have gone with the results of the focus group and the opinions of her team and chosen the robot, but instead she went with her personal choice.  Which no-one liked.

I'd have expected Sir Alan to fire Lindsay on the spot for such a pathetic and ill-considered response, but one noticeable feature of the first series of The Apprentice is that Sugar seems very restrained, as if he doesn't want to upset anyone.  So instead he listened politely - though of course he went on to fire Lindsay. 

In the taxi home (or wherever they are shipped off to), she is still talking rubbish.  She thinks that Sir Alan wants someone who will make a decision and stick to it, and that if it's a wrong decision he won't sack them for that because he has invested so much money in them and might as well keep them.  So she doesn't share his values.

Of course this is nonsense.  Someone who ignored all the advice that was given to them would need to have a very good reason for doing so, and Lindsay didn't.  Anyway, this is not a job, it's a "process".  You mess up big time, you get fired.


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