Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Live blogging The Apprentice series 5: episode 8

Well, seven people left and we head into episode 9. One more after this and then the interview show - one of my favourites.

Economics lessons this week:
  1. be innovative but not too innovative - you are operating in a context of pre-existing preferences and pre-existing competitors in a near-equilibrium.
  2. manage your time optimally. You don't have time to make it perfect, so make it good first - and then use your last hour to improve it if you can.

As always, a blank space to avoid spoilers - but if you haven't watched this week's episode yet, you haven't missed that much.

 Time to preview next week: choosing and selling products at a baby show. Do you get the feeling that the tasks are a bit too similar this series?

10:29 Mona is quite sweet, but I don't think I'd be hiring her. Then again, with the "talent" on offer this series there are other people I would fire first.

10:23 Howard is gay? You'd never have guessed from the episode.

10:22 Ah, Debra is also a villain. Better but they still didn't have much interesting to show.

10:19 Villain of the show: James. They don't even have someone worth hating this week.

10:17 Not much economics in the after-show today. Alan's opinion is that Mona can sell but she's a one-trick pony.

10:13 Mona is trying to apologise for saying something a bit thoughtless - that there are no gay people in Kent. Unfortunately something that could have been quite endearing ends up making her look even sillier.

10:11 Funny note on the map: it only had four places on it - Manchester, London, Brighton - and Margate. Are those the only places in Britain with gay people? Once again Howard and Debra get the blame.

10:08 I just spotted a spelling mistake on the poster. Actually not a spelling mistake, but a misplaced apostrophe. I know one shouldn't really care about these things, but after the wonderful misadventure of last year I think it's legitimate (remember "Happy Singles Day"?)

10:04 I'm afraid that, while the episode was mildly amusing, there wasn't much to learn from it and I don't know if I'm going to be able to say much during this programme. Maybe J is right about this series after all.

10:00 I liked Mona so I'd quite like to see the You're Fired panel agreeing.

9:59 Switching over to You're Fired? Why not.

9:58 And a quick final foot-shooting by Debra: she defends Mona - who can no longer do anything for her - at the expense of James, who can.

9:57 Hard to analyse why that happened. I think it was a bit of traditional irrationality: an impression formed through subconscious pattern matching with no overt justification.

9:56 And Mona's fired.

9:55 I think he's bored by this time. I am, a bit.

9:55 Alan is giving them a talking-to in exactly that order.

9:54 Who do I think should go? None of them would be a great loss. But I think Debra would be my first choice, then James, then Mona.

9:53 Alan is reviewing overall performance through the series. Both Mona and James are criticised for saying what they're expected to say, instead of bringing new ideas.

9:52 I don't even know what to say about this - it's an utterly inane banter between Mona, James and Debra about how everything was the other people's fault.

9:49 Howard is not back in the room - I am getting worse and worse at predictions on this show.

9:47 The importance of trust in economics is often neglected. Debra and Howard destroyed trust by lying to the branding team about the "local advertisers" line.

9:46 Mona is being criticised for not showing her full commitment to the message. Signalling mechanisms are a way of showing commitment, and she obviously didn't use any.

9:45 Mona's under fire a little. James is still avoiding the spotlight, but he throws himself into the conversation just in time to not be caught out for it.

9:44 Mona is asked why she didn't give any tips when she lives in Kent: of course she did say something at the beginning - to camera, but did she say it to Debra?

9:43 Clearly Howard is coming back into the room, because he has made himself a target. Mona and James were about equally neutral, but James probably hid himself better. What happened to Howard leading the subteam?

9:42 The mistakes? Two clear and simple errors: targetting a small market (at least one perceived as small by the buyer) and leaving too little time for their design, resulting in a poor quality product.

9:41 Score from branding experts for Ignite: 7/10! A comprehensive win for Ignite, despite small fights within the team.

9:40 Score from branding experts for Empire: 4/10

9:39 Score from residents for Ignite (Yasmina's team): 7/10

9:39 Score from residents for Empire (Debra's team): 4/10

9:38 Boardroom time, and Howard is putting himself at risk - with the profile of the project manager but not the power.

9:36 Howard's pitch (for Debra's team) was good but the audience hated the visuals - and weren't too keen on limiting the market to the gay community (perceived as a small group).

9:34 Turns out that the local community already had a preconception of what they want - focus on art and culture - but Yasmina's team failed to identify this in their pitch. I had a conversation with an economist this evening about the importance of "just enough" originality. You can't go too far from people's existing preferences, but you need to go far enough to stand out from the competition. Eventually you'll move the preferences with you, and then you can go a bit further.

9:32 In both cases the importance of visuals has been neglected by the teams. In a crowded market of boundedly rational consumers, communication in the first couple of seconds is important. Behavioural research clearly shows the extent to which people inform themselves about people and products within an instant, and that they anchor themselves to those initial assumptions.

9:31 Of course it doesn't work.

9:30 Hilarious attempt for Howard to justify why the leaflet is half blank. "So that local advertisers can participate".

9:29 Howard presents Debra's team - the posters look a bit amateurish. He highlights just how subtle they are - I don't think that's a good idea.

9:28 Yasmina's team have nice posters, leaflets and came up with a website too. The criticism is that it doesn't have a clear visual identity - relies on the text a bit too much, and would not stand out on the tube if the logo were removed.

9:27 Time to get in front of tourism and marketing experts, and then the population of Margate. I am very interested to see whether their opinions differ.

9:25 But while that team is at the stage of arguing over counterfactual versions of the leaflet, the others are only starting on theirs now. And just like the cereal box a few weeks ago, Debra has to leave half of the leaflet blank.

9:23 And an equivalent intra-team tussle between Yasmina and Lorraine. This has been fostered by the remote team structure: half of them had to go to Margate to take photos while the rest stayed in London to produce the marketing literature.

9:20 Little catfights between Debra and Howard to illustrate the power struggle. Howard has a sensible point which Debra is resisting - apparently out of emotion or pride, not logic. Another example of the principal-agent problem; the agent may be motivated not by their material needs (which you can align with the principal's goals through appropriate incentives) but by unpredictable emotional preferences, which are extremely hard to align.

9:18 Ben is photographing a family inside doing some pottery, instead of out on the beach, because it's foggy. Another economics lesson: if your market is not liquid enough, random factors have a huge influence. When you have less control, you are likely to end up with lower utility.

9:16 I met a bunch of behavioural economists and psychologists today, so I'm a bit influenced by those ideas more than the regular ones. Therefore the idea of rebranding - which in neoclassical economic theory doesn't have much of a place - seems very natural.

9:15 The idea of the gay market seems to be quite well-received by the locals who are surveyed. One would imagine that targeting gay people would be a more radical rebrand than families (therefore probably good), but Lorraine has a nice idea too: "See Margate through children's eyes". For a place which has a slightly faded air, turning it into a kid's destination could be a good move.

9:12 Margaret looks amused, Nick does not. I have no idea what that means.

There's a potential conflict between direct market forces and the people judging this task. Once again the teams don't have the chance to prove their ideas objectively good; instead they need to impress people who are judging on their behalf. There's a high risk of a principal-agent problem in this setup.

Debra's team have decided to target the gay market because they are high spenders and take a lot of holidays (presumably they have a market research briefing sheet which we don't get to see). Mona disowns the decision. Yasmina's team are aiming for families.

9:08 Has the game theory changed? Is there now an advantage to being project manager? I suspect that Alan has been less keen to fire project managers this year, and the contestants have spotted it.

Yasmina is the only volunteer on the other team.

This task is to rebrand Margate. Howard is volunteering as project manager - and for once there is a fight about it. Debra successfully wins this tussle.

Their only reason to show up in Greenwich was to go to the O2 centre - because it's been successfully rebranded (remember the Millennium Dome?)

The candidates are summoned to Greenwich - with an overnight bag again.



roym said...

did you see how everything that went wrong with the team's product was entirely down to the production side. i.e. howard and debra.
yet the "characters" are spared once again and mona goes for being one dimensional. too good at selling?! what a joke. how many dimensions has james got?
when comparing past performance, weve seen debra act incredibly aggressive, and howard has been virtually anonymous. once again Alan sugar plays the contrarian.

thegirlfrommarz said...

Has the game theory changed? Is there now an advantage to being project manager? I suspect that Alan has been less keen to fire project managers this year, and the contestants have spotted it.Well, once they're down to the last 8 or so, they've got a pretty good chance of ending up in the boardroom whatever they do if they're on the losing team, so they may as well try to become project manager and have some control over how the task goes.

Hello, by the way - I lurk on the Guardian's Apprentice blog.