Sunday, October 26, 2014

Apprenticeship 3

#TheApprentice is a TV reality show, pretending to be about management. See my earlier posts Apprenticeship (Feb 2011), Apprenticeship 2 (June 2013).

Opinion polls suggest that programmes like The Apprentice may be putting young people off careers in business. Frances Dickens of @AstusUK says we have a problem if young people can’t realise they are watching a televised caricature of entrepreneurship.

If the real purpose of the show is to entertain, a degree of repetition and predictability would be a problem. As @StuHeritage complains

"The tasks this year – sell some stuff you’ve only just seen, invent something that you have no real expertise in, spend two hours manufacturing a product that you clearly know nothing about – are merely tired rehashes of things we’ve seen before."

Yes, these tasks are silly, because they trivialize the challenges of business, they underrate the importance of knowledge and experience, and rate short-term effort (and luck) above persistence and resilience.

But repetition and predictability are central to the concept of apprenticeship. You can't do something perfectly first time, you have to have many attempts, over an extended period, under the guidance of a Master, before you can achieve mastery yourself. The figure of 10,000 hours is often cited. 

Above all, the concept of apprenticeship depends on stationarity - roughly, the idea that the future will resemble the past, which implies that the young can profit from the experience of the old. Talent shows such as X Factor often follow this idea strongly, as young aspiring musicians are required to copy the great masters of past decades, as well as obediently following the direction of their celebrated "mentors": originality is politely discouraged. Whereas the media view of business is largely based on the fantasy that a brilliant entrepreneurial idea will allow the aspiring entrepreneur to bypass much of the hard work and repeated disappointment that previous entrepreneurs have suffered. The candidates in The Apprentice often seem to treat the show not as a learning opportunity but as an extended opportunity to show off what they already know. Or rather what they think they already know. Of course, the audience knows better, thanks to the knowing winks of the grown-ups, allowing an ironic appreciation of the idiocy and vanity of the candidates, and an associated lack of appreciation of the talents that might actually lead to success in business.

Ben Carter, Can 10,000 hours of practice make you an expert? (BBC Magazine, 1 March 2014)

Frances Dickens, Has The Apprentice ruined what it means to be an entrepreneur? (Guardian 22 October 2014)

Martin Geddes, What is stationarity and why does it matter? (Linked-In Pulse, 24 October 2014)

Stuart Heritage, It's time for The Apprentice to clear its desk and go (Guardian, 23 October 2014)

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