Monday, 30 April 2012

#Snooker's dark secret

A little fictional indulgence, for anyone who missed this "short story" on Twitter last night.

Disclaimer: the people and events mentioned here are entirely fictional, and any resemblance to real life is purely coincidence.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

#TheApprentice - strategy? What strategy?!

First off - apologies for posting about The Apprentice twice in the space of a week.  I am not a pundit, and I shan't make this a regular thing.  The trouble is, two episodes in a row, now, have moved me to write about things which annoy me.  Here's this week's little grumble for you...

This time around, the right team (Sterling) won, in my opinion.  And in the Boardroom, the losing team (Phoenix - led by that epitome of twerpishness, Adam Corbally) came in for plenty of (deserved) flak for their tactics.  What surprised me, though, was Adam's complete lack of foresight.

When Lord Sugar asked Adam which two members of his team he would bring back into the Boardroom with him, Adam dillied and dallied (dallied and dillied) and umm-ed and ahh-ed about this decision.  As I remarked on Twitter at the time, surely he knew that question was coming?!

Now, as I've already mentioned, Adam really is a first class wally - but even so, this problem is by no means unique to him.  Far too often, I see Project Managers dithering over their choice of who to bring back in the final three.  (Even more bizarrely, they often seem to speak their thought processes out loud, while trying to make this decision - "well, I could bring so-and-so back in, because she messed up on the costings, and that really affected our chances, but then again, what's-his-face didn't really contribute much, and had poor sales figures.  Then there was that bit where whojamaflip slapped that Alderney cow during the pitch; that was really uncalled-for...")

But my point is, how can they not have prepared for this moment?!  If you're a Project Manager, you must know there is a chance that Lord Sugar will ask you this question!

Of course, everybody hopes to have won the task, and I can understand that you don't want to dwell too much on the possibility of losing.  But only a fool discounts that possibility completely, and not to have a contingency plan, just in case, seems most unwise, to me.

If I were a Project Manager going into the Boardroom at the end of a task, not yet knowing who's won and who's lost, I would already have that thought in the back of my mind.  Of course, I would be hoping fervently that my team had one the task, and that all would be well - but I would already be thinking in advance "what if we have lost this?  What is my Boardroom strategy going to be?  Who do I think I should bring back with me, in the final three?"

The fact that none of these candidates ever seem to plan ahead in this way - something which, to me, always seems so obvious! - is surprising, and more than a little disappointing.  I understand that what's said in that initial Boardroom analysis might affect the decision somewhat - but ultimately, each individual will be judged on their performance in the task, and in that respect, what's done is done.

Not to give the issue a moment's thought until that inevitable question is posed by Lord Sugar is, to my mind, very poor.  Such dithering and indecision makes a candidate look unprofessional and inompetent, and the lack of foresight they exhibit cannot be a good trait for anyone wanting to be successful in business.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Damned if you do, and damned if you don't - the myth of the political "U-turn"

So, with Twitter foaming at the mouth about the Leveson Inquiry, and its revelations about Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt's involvement in News Corporation's takeover bid of BSkyB, I am once again dipping my toe into the turbulent weir of political blogging.  Albeit on a totally different subject...


The U-turn.  What is it?

I have long struggled with the concept of the U-turn (known, apparently, as the Flip-Flop, in America) in politics.  Describing sudden or drastic changes to policy, it is used almost exclusively as a term of derision, or accusation.  The idea supposedly being that one accuses a U-turning politician of not standing up for his convictions, and staying strong in the face of criticism.

Now, when a Government minister announces new policy details, he can expect criticism.  Criticism from the Opposition is almost guaranteed, and as such can largely be ignored, as it will often be Opposition politicians being contrary simply for the sake of it.  (These days, Opposition politicians seem to view their job as being to criticise the Government position on everything - even if that is exactly what their position would also be, if they were in office.  This, to my mind, is a sad state of affairs in itself, but is a topic for another post.)  It is criticism from independent and non-political sources, and from the public as a whole, on which I am going to focus here.

Let's look at the recent furore surrounding proposed reforms to the NHS (National Health Service).  The Coalition Government, and particularly Health Minister Andrew Lansley, has come in for a lot of criticism over these plans, with NHS workers, Trade Unions, and the general public campaigning and protesting over the issue.  Lansley has been urged to "Drop The Bill", and abandon the proposed reforms, by protestors at every stage of this legislation.

(Whether this criticism is deserved or not is another issue; this is not a post about the Health Bill - I am merely using it to illustrate my point - and I do not wish to debate the Bill itself here.)

So, what would happen if Lansley bowed to pressure, and did drop the Health Bill?  In all probability, he would be further pilloried for having done so - his detractors would sneer, and ridicule him for performing the infamous U-turn, and not sticking to his guns over the issue of the Health Bill.

So, Lansley cannot win.  Whether he pushes the Health Bill through or not, the public will hate him.  This is the problem I have with the concept of the U-turn.

I can quite understand that some people may not agree with certain Government policies, and that they may campaign to change these policies.  I do not understand why they would be such sore winners.  After all, if you have been urging a politician to change something, and then he does change it, surely you ought to be pleased?  You got exactly what you wanted - so why then lambaste him for doing what you asked?

By these standards, a U-turn is essentially a politician taking notice of public opinion, and acting on it.  Isn't that what politicians are meant to do?


Rest assured, as with all my forays into political blogging before, I will soon take fright and run for cover.  Normal service (advice on chopping carrots and eating sandwiches, and moaning about people on the telly) will resume shortly.  Thank you for your patience.

Monday, 23 April 2012

#TheApprentice - you never learn!

A little under a year ago, I wrote this Blog post about the television programme The Apprentice.  Regular readers (whose existence I seriously doubt) will remember this post fondly.  For non-regular readers (whose existence is also somewhat dubious), I shall paraphrase now...

The central tenet of my post from June 2011 was a disappointment at the behaviour of the losing team, in a task when the finish was so close to call, the difference between the profits generated by the two teams was a mere £6.  I felt that such a tiny disparity between the two teams' performance proved that they had been evenly matched, and yet Lord Sugar was still angry, describing the task as a "failure".  When asked who, in the team, was responsible for this supposed "failure", the various team members set upon each other like jackals, despite having been excellent team players, with real rapport and camaraderie, just hours before.

A similar (although not identical) situation arose in the most recent episode of this series of The Apprentice - in which both teams were charged with the task of devising a new fitness class, and franchising their ideas to gyms and health clubs around the country.

The team who eventually lost this task (Sterling - led by the hilariously-named Ricky Martin, a businessman and professional wrestler [?!]) came up with what I thought was actually a better concept, overall.  They pitched their ideas to three gyms, two of whom bought trial runs of the class.

The team who eventually won this task (Phoenix - led by the disappointingly-ordinarily-named Stephen Brady [no relation of Karen's, one assumes!]) had, in my opinion, a poorer concept - and of the three gyms, only one thought the idea was worth buying into.  (Interestingly, the third gym also didn't like the idea as it was pitched - but saw potential for it to be developed into another idea, which they felt was viable, albeit with a totally different target market.)

The reason that the Phoenix won this task, however, was that the one gym which was interested in their idea bought a large order straight off, while the two gyms who liked the Sterling's ideas better only bought a short trial period each.

Lord Sugar was very clear, in the Boardroom:

"Whichever way you look at it, £12,810 is playing £7,970."

No, Lord Sugar, there is another way to look at it.  Allow me to point it out to you...

Of the three companies pitched to by Sterling, two of them were interested in the product - that's an uptake of 66.7% - but of the same three companies, only one of them was interested in Phoenix's product, giving Phoenix an uptake of only 33%, off the same number of pitches.  And although Sterling's profits may be only 5/8ths of Phoenix's, in this initial stage, I think it's difficult to deny that Sterling's product would reach a wider audience, and that this would, in long run, give them the potential to generate much more revenue than Phoenix could.

After this, of course, it was the same old story.  Despite a strong showing - working well, and generating profits of almost £8k - the members of team Sterling turned upon each other, and clawed and bit one another, until one of their number (Duane Bryan - whom I had previously thought to be one of this year's stronger candidates) had been dismissed by Lord Sugar.

What had Duane done wrong?  He had directed a promotional video of the fitness class Sterling were selling - a video which was later identified as the main reason for Sterling's downfall in this task.  In my opinion, Duane didn't really do a great job directing the video.  But neither did he do an especially bad job.  And this was a promotional video which got two-thirds of the companies to which Sterling pitched interested enough in the product to part with their money.  Was the promotional video the weak chink in Sterling's armour?  Possibly, yes.  Was its weakness reason enough to fire Duane from the process?  Not in my opinion, no.

In my opinion, Sterling had the better product, and the greater number of orders, and therefore should have won the task.  Phoenix were lucky with the one order they did get, and, in essence, fluked it.

But having (unfairly) lost the task, what should the strategy have been, for the members of team Sterling, going into the Boardroom?  I have yet to see it, but I remain convinced that Lord Sugar would be impressed by a display of team unity.  Just once, I'd love to see a team stick together in the Boardroom - so, here's my advice to future Apprentice candidates...

In situations like these, when Lord Sugar asks "who was responsible for this task going wrong?" reply "no one!  Because this task didn't 'go wrong' - it went right, and we've £8,000 of profit to prove it!  Yes, technically, we 'lost' - but that doesn't mean we did badly, or that was deserved to lose, or that anyone deserves to be fired.  We were a little bit unlucky, yes, but we put on a good show regardless, and you can't penalise someone for that."

Go on, try it.  I'll bet you your profits (whatever they may end up being) that Lord Sugar is impressed.