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Succeed By Counting Your Chickens - Three Success Lessons From The UK Apprentice
Three key success lessons emerged from 'The Apprentice'. 'The Apprentice' is a very popular reality TV show in both the UK and the USA. This article is based on the UK version of the show which features Sir Alan Sugar who, like Donald Trump, is a highly successful businessman.
Sir Alan Sugar, the East End boy who became a multimillionaire businessman with a reputation for blunt speaking and toughness, spent about twelve weeks this year selecting an apprentice to run one of his business projects.
More than 10,000 people applied for "The Apprentice" and a chance to get a six-figure salaried job with Sir Alan Sugar. The 14 finalists had done well to get into the last stages of the process but only one would win the prize.
I did not learn as many lessons about success in business or in life from the program as I had hoped but there were three important success lessons which are worth remembering.
Sir Alan, himself, was asked at the end of the program what lessons he had learned. His answer was a surprising one: "You don't buy a hundred chickens for a hundred pizzas!"
He was referring to a task set early in the process of evaluating the candidates to be his apprentice.
One bright spark called Syed Ahmed had been given the job of ordering the food ingredients necessary for an event in central London. His team would use the ingredients to make food that people would buy from their food stall. The aim was to make a profit which was greater than that of their rival team.
Syed's team decided to offer Italian food including pizzas. Syed acted with careless abandon and total disregard for detail. He ordered a hundred chickens without figuring out how many chickens would be needed to make one pizza. He also did not bother to enquire what size the chickens were. They turned out to be huge!
His team, as you can imagine, ended up by wasting a large amount of money before they started selling and in the end the pizzas did not sell that well. Large numbers of very large chickens were eventually thrown away and Sir Alan like any good businessman does not like to have his money wasted.
Many businesses and other enterprises fail because people do not keep a close check on the money they are spending. Sir Alan explained forcefully that he did not like to see people p*** his money up against the wall.
All of us need to learn the importance of counting the numbers involved in any enterprise whether they are about chickens or anything else. Success is often a numbers game whether you are counting calories or the number of press ups you perform daily or the money you save every month.
Many candidates did well in the tasks they were set but then blew their chances in the interviews near the end of the elimination process. They had no idea what kind of businesses Sir Alan was running even though they claimed to be keen to have a job in his organisation.
They had failed to do their homework and came into the interviews totally unprepared. Success usually involves doing one's homework. "Preparation Prevents P*** Pot Poor Performance" to use words that Sir Alan did not but might have used!
Paul Tulip, a head hunter, was one of the most successful candidates but he had failed to prepare for the interviews. He had also failed to hand in a decent CV.
His other mistake was to appear arrogant rather than confident. One interviewer took an instant dislike to him. Part of the interview went as follows:
Paul: "I think I am brilliant!"
Interviewer: "Don't keep saying that!"
Paul: "I can get on with anyone!"
Interviewer: "You don't get on with me!"
Paul never recovered his status with Sir Alan after the interviews. Later he explained his arrogant attitude.
"I thought I'd better say that I am the best and then I have something to live up to."
His girlfriend commented: "He says he's the best every day. I just say: 'Of course you are darling.'"
The interviewer was less tolerant: "I didn't like him. At 25 you can't be the best. He's just a chancer."
Sir Alan also commented that Paul was too cocksure.
Paul's strategy might have worked if he had been a great boxer like Muhammad Ali. Muhammad also claimed to be the best but he was not applying for a job as an apprentice i.e. some one who is ready to learn.
Another favourite to win probably blew her chances at the interviews as well. Ruth is a very successful manager and sales woman but she, at times, appeared arrogant and even aggressive.
She shocked one interviewer by failing to knock on the door when she barged in for her interview. She was fond of describing herself as the badger. Her real name was Ruth Badger and she lived up to it.
She made large claims for what she had achieved in previous jobs. Her interviewer found these difficult to believe: "She sounds like wonder woman!"
In her final interview with Sir Alan she did not sound like a future apprentice should:
"I am the all rounder. I will increase your revenue; I've already got the skills"
If she already had the skills, why bother to be an apprentice? Even a tough character like Sir Alan does not want to have to deal with an over confident 'badger'.
In the end the job of apprentice went to the quietly confident but determined and ambitious Michelle Dewberry who started her business life as a check out girl with very few exam passes to her name.
Michelle had probably not been as successful as Paul and Ruth in the tasks they were set but she managed to remain in control of herself even when fiercely questioned.
Nor did she lose her control in the final event when she found her team were letting her down. Instead she gave her opinion of their behaviour forcefully and then took effective steps to put things right.
Michelle, like Sir Alan, came from a tough background and like him could swear like a trooper. Plenty of people had told her she would fail but this added to the flames of her desire to make more of life:
"I have many people saying to me you are going to be on the dole. That's what drives me."
When Michelle started the assessment process she heard the other candidates talking about how great they were and how much better they were than the others. She wisely kept her self-confidence to herself:
"People underestimate me because I'm not loud or cocky; they meet me and think I'm a bit quiet, or I'm a bit blonde, whatever, and they are sadly mistaken."
Michelle is, in fact, a very attractive blonde and always takes care to present herself well. Sir Alan could hardly have failed to notice this and the way she could persuade people with her feminine charm.
This is not a politically correct asset but, given Michelle's other qualities, might well have given her the edge.
Three main success lessons emerge from this year's apprentice. They apply to anyone who wants to succeed whether as an apprentice or working on their own.
Don't waste money especially if it belongs to your employer!
Do your home work. One ancient writing says: "If ye are prepared, ye shall not fear."
Do not come across as big headed unless you plan on working on your own! Simply appear quietly confident and give every task, as Michelle did in her own words: "110 per cent!"
Eventually people will judge you by your actions and results rather than by your over confident words. Read the story of David and Goliath again!
If you find acronyms helpful, remember the word CAN.
You can achieve almost anything you desire if you remember the importance of the following three key success traits and techniques which make up the acronym CAN:
Confidence i.e. have confidence in your ability to learn new skills and to persevere until you achieve those goals which you desire most.
Advance Preparation i.e. prepare as thoroughly as possible for whatever you are trying to achieve. Make lists of what you need to do or learn. Work on these key tasks every day.
Numbers i.e. keep a close check on the actual numbers or details of what you are doing or pay some one else to do this for you. Checking numbers will keep you in touch with reality. Start counting your chickens!
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