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Four Lessons from Four Apprentices

Last week, the final of “The Apprentice” was watched by 10 million viewers, Alan Sugar selected inventor Tom Pellereau as the winner of the £250,000 investment.

Before the finalists disappear from our awareness, let’s just consider some simple lessons that can help point the way to success and failure in the corporate world.

Now, I’m well aware that what we see on TV isn’t the whole truth about the individuals, their personal qualities and behaviours. However, what we did see can be used to illustrate certain points.

Lesson 1. Fancy talk is not enough

All of the budding apprentices talked their share of B.S. along the way. However, Jim Edwards overused clichés right to the very end. A charming salesman (useful in some of the tasks), he often gave the impression that there wasn’t much substance under the style. When it came to the crunch of the final, he was completely unconvincing.

Lesson 2. A good track record doesn’t guarantee success

Helen Milligan (no relative!) seemed like a favourite to win. Apart from one episode, she had always been on the winning team. She had good people skills and came across as very capable and organised. She fell at the last hurdle. She may have won the old format of the show where the prize was a job. This time, it needed entrepreneurial flair and her badly considered choice of business idea was her downfall.

Lesson 3. Being right doesn’t mean being heard

Susan Ma’s life story starting from humble beginnings in China is an inspiration. A gentle, softly spoken person with deep determination, Susan had some insights that could have saved her team from disaster. However, she usually allowed people to shout her down. She could later say, “I told you so” but what use is it being right if nobody takes any notice of you?

Lesson 4. A well placed story can win the day

Although he looked like an unlikely finalist, Tom made it through. Undoubtedly, Lord Sugar was eyeing off Tom's inventive mind as a potential source of the next big idea. However, in terms of television impact, Tom won the day with his story of how he (as a sole operator) got his product into Wal Mart. Not only did he have a clever idea about doing that, he actioned it and won the attention of a Wal Mart buyer. Lord Sugar said, “I didn’t know you had it in you!”

I saved that lesson to the end because it is my favourite. Stories paint a picture and vividly illustrate a point more powerfully than empty rhetoric (like we saw Jim using).

Whether you’re going for a job interview, seeking to win some business, or want to convince the board that your idea is worth a try, a well-timed and well-told story can make all the difference.

If you want to look into this more, then read, “Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins” by Annette Simmons.

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