The new BBC series of Alan Sugar’s Apprentice has seen the format change from a search for an employee to a search for a business partner – an entrepreneur. However, the format of the tasks so far remains largely unchanged.
Do the tasks set for the candidates on The Apprentice really test entrepreneurial skills? The judges should be looking for abilities such as
- thinking creatively and innovating
- identifying opportunities
- planning for success – using skills in functional areas of business (such as finance, marketing, operations and technology management)
- lead a team by articulating their entrepreneurial vision and securing the buy-in needed
However, tasks to date concentrate on the two latter skills, placing little emphasis on the abilities (innovation and opportunity recognition) that are at the heart of entrepreneurship.
Here are the three reasons I think Lord Sugar’s search for an entrepreneur as opposed to an employee will fail.
1. Entrepreneurs are strong willed entrepreneurs can’t necessarily work together
Entrepreneurs are – more or less by definition – strong willed. As Schumpeter said ‘they believe they are right and that everyone else is wrong’. I am not sure how well Lord Sugar will take to being told that he is wrong in his evaluation of different situations? How likely is he to select an individual who is very much like himself, but without the track record to back up his or her stance?
Entrepreneurs identify opportunities and develop innovations and this is what makes them entrepreneurial. The current Apprentice candidates are not being tested on their entrepreneurial skills – they are simply responding to challenges set. The boundaries of the tasks don’t allow them to identify a business opportunity that they are truly passionate about. As any good employee, they are just finding ways to be passionate about whatever they are told to work on. So, when the time comes, what will the nature of the new business be and who will decide this?
3. Entrepreneurship is situation specific
Lastly, but not least, Lord Sugar’s search will fail because entrepreneurship is very much situation specific. It happens in specific places and at specific times. Take one entrepreneur outside of his or her habitat and they will struggle. Let some time elapse before exploiting your opportunity and or realise your innovation and someone else will have got there first. This is exactly what the programme does – it takes individuals out of their natural environment and drops them in Lord Sugar’s empire then lets time elapse through a prolonged selection process.
The programme concentrates on the game of power, which entrepreneurs working within corporations (often also identified as intrapreneurs) are confronted with: i.e. how to read the politics of the workplace correctly, identify the key players, and make sure that they buy into their ideas.
Ultimately the programme is not about entrepreneurship – it is about television. Young ambitious people developing a public profile. Then, as we have seen many times in the past, they can use this to build a career that is media centred.
Will any of them become entrepreneurs that enjoy a level of success of their proposed mentor? My view is that probably not. If they were they would be out there now … doing it