Discord and A Strident Melody: The Apprentice, Episode 8

Mon Dieu, Paris! Yep, it’s the episode where they spend about 36 hours abroad to show how multinational activity is just another imperative in the life of the thrusting young businessperson. Poor things are so rushed off their feet, they don’t even have time to pick up the Time Out Paris Shopping Guide as they charge through St Pancras International. (Couldn’t one of them faint a coughing fit to distract the minders’ attention while another one sneaks into Smiths? Maybe pick up a phrase book too? Where is their ingenuity? Perpetually unprepared, they might make fledgling entrepreneurs but they’d be drummed out of the Cub-scouts or Brownies faster than you can auto-translate’ woggle’.)

It was a fine week for epic howlers, even by the programme’s standards. Susan wondering if the French love their children or drive cars raised Karren Brady’s eyebrows so far they were in danger of leaving her body all together. Luckily for her, Helen chose the child’s combined rucksack and car seat as a winning product, delivered a smooth pitch and sold £200,000 of them to La Redoute. And Susan’s diminutive frame allowed her to personally demonstrate the seat, although whether this dismisses the traditional argument that winners need to demonstrate ‘bottom’ remains debatable.

Star of the programme – and I’m whipping myself with nettles with a free hand at such wanton misuse of our noble language as I type – was, however, Melody. The Melody came through very loudly, even if not necessarily clearly. What was clear was that she was making this task hers, and to hell with team playing. The view from my sofa showed a woman who valiantly and proudly (very proudly) won a string of battles – and not just lost the war but seemed to not even notice it. Throughout the programme, she was focused on her own regard – and spectacularly inobservant of pretty much everything else. By delivering a peerless performance as a bull in a teapot shop, Melody, it transpired, had just the one note: mi, mi, mi, mi, mi … And I think most of us know what a bull tends to leave in its wake.

PM Tom, who has developed and successfully launched products for the baby market, picked the ruck-seat doodah as a clear winner among the British products from which the teams could pick to ‘impress’ the unsuspecting Parisians. Melody – accompanied by the seemingly purely decorative and irredeemably monoglot Leon – clearly hated the product, conducted her ‘market research’ in a metro station, put quite an interesting spin on translating people’s responses and used her ‘findings’ to overrule him.

Having failed to notice Smiths at St Pancras, she failed to notice that Paris has an outdoors – and that it largely consists of traffic snarled streets. (Last time I was at Gare du Nord, I’m sure it had windows. It definitely had entrances and exits you could briefly stroll out of – or even delegate Leon to. He wouldn’t need to speak French to be able to see cars outside, surely, and it’s not like he was busy.) The following day, sat in a traffic jam and struggling to make one of the appointments she’d up till then refused to share with her team, she seemed astonished at all these cars everywhere. For a woman who speaks six languages, isn’t it slightly odd she can’t say ‘fact-finding’ in at least two of them? (Leon, it transpired, had even less excuse on the failure – despite Tom’s explicit instruction – to research La Redoute: it turned out he worked with them before.) Blowing the provided big retailer opportunity by a margin of 240,000 Euros lost Melo … sorry, Tom’s team the task by the biggest margin in the programme’s history.

And still Melody sang her own praises – more sales than anyone else (true, but your rejection of the key product, engineering of market research, and failure to research the golden opportunity despite a clear instruction lost the bigger fight on a monumental scale), made all the appointments (by playing her language advantage remorselessly to her own benefit, and failing to plan her day to actually fulfil them all), taking the reins in an absence of direction (when she did get direction, she overruled or ignored it without so much as an apology). For a relatively slim lady, she was obviously determined to have the final aria, but seemed oblivious that even the finest Melody needs accompaniment to achieve the greatest effect on its audience. Perhaps what she really learnt at the feet of the Dalai Lama was acapella throat-singing?

HRH His Sweetness of Clapton in the Borough of Hackney admired Melody for her hunger (although he might have stopped to ponder what she was hungry for, which seemed to be adoration or control), and she was congratulated for making so a high percentage of (so few) sales. I noticed that we are explicitly told at the start of each episode that he’s not looking for a salesperson. I also noticed that each episode is judged on … well, sales. Ok, there are some conceptual imperfections, but as long as everyone gives it 110 per cent … If was looking for a partner, someone so wantonly insubordinate and deaf to my knowledge, experience and direct instructions would have been crossed off my list pronto.Tom was told to take a leaf out of her book (which read as ‘sing from her songsheet, son, ’cause there’s no way on this earth she’s ever going to bother even opening yours’), but stayed mostly on the basis of proven past success. Melody, Sugar judged, also lingers on: Noel Coward once said something witty about the strange potency of cheap, popular music. Let’s hope she keeps that ‘popular’ bit in mind.

Leon, who spent two days majoring in looking like a Posh Twit (presumably hoping the Parisians would buy this in a moment of reckless Anglophilia) and drawing a tea-pot, took the Taxi Of Shame.

Just for Melody, here are some French people singing acapella as a group and providing mutual accompaniment. Having taught herself Italian (if not modesty), no doubt she can teach herself Occitan by the time they get to the second chorus.

Filed under: communication, leadership development, leading performance, life, recruitment, relationships, teamwork


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