Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Live blogging the Apprentice series 5: episode 11

I can't stay for You're Fired today - and anyway it would just be too painful to hear again about James's bodily fluids.



So here are today's economics lessons:
  1. The two-second rule is really critical. A famous Harvard experiment shows that the impressions we get in seeing two seconds of someone - without even any sound - correlate almost exactly with the impression we get from being taught by them for a whole semester.
  2. Signalling overcomes information asymmetry. The successful candidates were confident and this is our natural way of signalling that we're good at something - which is what people need to know when they're evaluating us.
  3. Figures are always approximate. Yasmina's 8% discrepancy in her turnover figures makes no difference at all to anyone in the real world. Claude tried to bring a hyper-rationality to the interview process which is counterproductive.








And if you haven't seen the episode yet, please jump down to the bottom of the page and read upwards while you watch.










10:00 And the ten o'clock news seems somehow far more significant than this little game. Gordon Brown's going to have to make some huge changes on Friday. Perhaps the Chancellor will hear those infamous words..."Darling - you're fired!"

9:59 Coming up later in the week: "Why I fired them" at 8.30 on Friday. And the final on Sunday at 9.

9:58 One job...now just two candidates remain. Sir Alan's search for his apprentice...will be over soon, never fear!

9:58 Well, those two-second impressions really count. Yasmina and Kate are on their way to the final, as predicted by the omniscient Anna Pickard and the somewhat scient (and slightly late to the party) me.

9:57 And Debra is FIRED!

9:56 So...Yasmina and Debra...the air is electric.

9:55 Kate is in the final!

9:53 Debra comes out fighting, nicely done.

9:52 A final re-precis of all the candidates. As usual, he finds some problem with everyone...but before he even gets to Debra, Lorraine is FIRED!

9:50 Interesting that in real business, people work very hard to take out all the emotion from so many processes. Personnel, sales...and if my company is eliminated from a tender process nobody would ever think of doing it face-to-face with all my competitors in the room. But it does have some real value in expressing humanity - as well as the merit of getting an honest decision out quickly.

9:49 So it will be an all-women final. But which women will they be? Everyone is a little emotional - such tension.

9:48 Really sudden! James is FIRED. He says goodbye in a really lovely way: "It's been brilliant". Good work and a sympathetic exit.

9:47 Alan to Yasmina: why do you want to give up your independence? When I started my business, wild horses wouldn't have driven me back to work for someone else. Yasmina: my talents are being wasted in catering: I want to work for you for a few years and then get my freedom back. Honest at least - if she is really willing to stick around for a few years...

9:46 Lorraine: if I've been critical of people, I'm surprised. I've never experienced such feuding in a team.

9:45 Kate: I'm unflappable. Alan thinks he's never seen a person this controlled be successful in business. He points out that you can't sell anything with logic - he makes people put down their spreadsheets and talk to him if they are in a meeting with him.

9:44 Debra: I'm willing to work on changing myself. Alan thinks she needs to work on herself before conquering the world.

9:43 James's statement: "I have such a wealth of experience that you don't need to reinvent the wheel with me - just fix a couple of spokes maybe." If only there were an economic theory of metaphors...well, maybe there is.

9:42 He sounds awful - but kind of endearing. He admits he appears to be a joker sometimes.

9:41 Sir Alan asks for some personal statements. Nobody wants to speak first, but James is willing to start.

9:40 That music again. I wonder if they're going to release a soundtrack album.

9:39 So maybe Debra, Yasmina and Kate can all survive? I think I remember three firings in last week's preview, but reader Jane (by email) thinks that there were only two. Hmm.

9:38 And Debra - good in interview, but her references say she's unmanageable. She's regarded as tough, and because she's so young she's mouldable.

9:37 Everyone thinks Kate is just too good. I can't imagine she'll get fired for that - but they might try to deliberately challenge her next week. Alan does occasionally think someone doesn't have enough fire to take them on, but I don't think that would be a fair assessment of Kate.

9:36 James is not especially popular - though Claude oddly enough has a good word for him.

9:35 Everyone likes Yasmina except Claude. She gets far better reviews than Lorraine.

9:34 Claude is being pretty unfair - I am not impressed.

9:33 Turns out Anna Pickard's prediction is Yasmina and Kate in the final - I agree now.

9:29 Frankly: the candidates wiped the floor with those four "super-tough" interviewers. Well done them!

9:28 James is touchingly emotional about the possibility of being fired. A nice moment.

9:27 All Claude can find fault with in Kate is that she is an "extremely competent interviewee". The way he interacts with people, no wonder they get defensive.

9:25 I think the candidates might have learned something from the Obama team vetting process in last year's presidential election. So far they don't have enough in their past for the interviewers to find any problems, so they're clutching at straws and throwing personal insults.

9:24 At least they aren't taking it too seriously, which is about the right attitude in this show.

9:22 Debra's references: "loud, obnoxious, inexperienced - swearing, telling colleagues to eff off". "Not a team player", "aggressive and rude", "people hate her", "thinks she's the dog's bollocks". No surprises there!

9:21 The confidence game again - Kate and Yasmina are putting a much stronger facade up to their fellow contestants after being eaten alive in the interview room. The others are happy to admit to being roasted. Intriguing.

9:20 James has used a couple of infelicitous phrases on his application for the show. Claude picks up on them, but if that's the worst he can do...

9:18 Lorraine's been caught by Karren lying on her CV. A bad signal - economics (and business) are tough on violations of contract law.

9:15 Claude is being pretty nasty about rounding errors in Yasmina's descriptions of her business performance - she shouldn't let herself be intimidated. To complain about a turnover of £370,000 per annum which she described as £8,000 per week in another document - pretty cheeky on his part. Especially in her first year, when it's likely the weekly turnover started low and could well be over £8k by the end.

9:15 This is like Dragon's Den.

9:14 Yasmina's asked about her restaurant business by Karren. And by Claude, who accuses her of being dishonest.

9:13 And Kate is asked the usual question: if you're doing so well, why are you here?

9:12 I have heard people talk like Claude when they're deliberately trying to intimidate you and demean your work - it comes across as insincere. Hope James can shake it off.

9:11 Claude thinks James's CV is "extraordinarily bad". Full of jargon.

9:10 A few sneak previews of the interviews, all nasty fragments in their own way. And James is the first to get in the room.

9:07 Alan Sugar explains the interview task in case any of the candidates don't realise what series they're on and have never watched it before. Interviewed by four people: head of Viglen Alan something (not Sugar I guess), Sir Alan's "global troubleshooter" Claude, MD of Birmingham City FC Karren Brady (who's showed up on this blog before), and lawyer Alan Watts. And up to three people will be fired at the end of the show.

9:05 Signalling is important here: interviewers are looking (subconsciously perhaps) for cues that this is the right person, and the interviewee's judgment on the matter is rightly or wrongly an insight into that. With asymmetric information, the interviewee is in theory in a better position to judge their qualifications than the interviewer. So it should be a good strategy to appear utterly confident. That is a point against Lorraine, James and Debra, who are all in different ways diffident.

9:04 Everyone claims to be confident about the interviews. Lorraine says she's not, but throws in that she's "really good at interviews" at the end.

9:02 The usual previews/repeats.

9:00 And now the real show. Very exciting.

8:59 Revealing that nobody has won more than six tasks out of ten. It's not that hard to do - of 1024 possible outcomes, they break down like this:
 1: ten wins
 10: nine wins
 45: eight wins
 120: seven wins
Total: 176 or 17% chance of winning more than six. With five candidates left, especially as it's losers who are winnowed out, you'd expect someone to have been in that 17%. Perhaps there is some natural equalising tendency - a winner's curse. Some interesting research from Lionel Page into the reverse effect - a winner's effect in tennis, where winners of early sets have more rather than less success in future. I'll add a link to it later.

8:57 A final candidate statement from everyone. Yasmina is determined. Kate is determined (and has nothing else to do with her life - the "chicken" theory that you cut off all your other options to signal your commitment). Lorraine thinks she's the best (and won the most tasks, six out of ten). Debra is "most improved" candidate. And James is self-effacing, having lost more tasks than anyone, but he's going to come back from the dead (he even picked the same metaphor as me).

8:55 We still aren't hearing much from Sir Alan. He is obviously kept in reserve until - if not the final, at least until "Why I fired them" which is yet another extra show coming up at the weekend.

8:54 Time for a final summary. A little bit more girl-boy rivalry - all the girls think they're going to get rid of James.

8:53 In fact, everyone loves her all of a sudden. And she did really well on the TV sales challenge. A really strong salesperson, in fact, it seems.

8:52 It's quite interesting that Debra was so challenging to Nick - of course he is old and tough enough to take it, and he's quite nice to her now.

8:51 Lorraine is being nice about all her competitors today. Odd strategy.

8:50 Somehow Debra's family and upbringing were in Glasgow, but her accent is from as far south of Glasgow as I have ever heard.

8:49 Any cognitive economic model must have a role for attention, which is about what factors stay at the front of your mind and therefore receive a higher weighting in decision-making. And Debra definitely gets - and keeps - attention.

8:45 And the lovely Debra. I did expect her to be fired before today, but then I always think the mouthy people will annoy the hell out of Sir Alan and they never seem to do. Or else they just make such good TV that they need to be kept till they end. She is definitely (painfully) fun to watch.

8:44 Economic model-wise, it probably makes better TV to play off a man and woman in the final show. So I'd rate his chances of survival.

8:42 Statistics now - James has survived the boardroom four times now. The odds of that - if it were purely random - are less than 20%. Impressive.

8:41 James is really being quite revealing about his first boardroom experience.

8:40 Unlike James's mother, who says he has a calculator for a brain.

8:36 It's nice to hear Margaret and Nick being kind about people.

8:35 And...James. Seeing Philip again reminds me that James isn't as awful as he now seems.

8:31 A reminder of the real tension between Philip and Lorraine. Definite difference in business culture between the two of them, and Philip has the much more conventional style. But Lorraine's outlived him - Darwinian economics answers that question firmly.

8:29 Not so sure about this "intuition" story about Lorraine. I am a real sceptic about mysterious magic powers. Perhaps, however, there could be such a phenomenon, if you interpret it as a combination of intelligence and lack of self-confidence.

8:27 Lorraine now. A bit of personal story - the breakup of her marriage after she took a career break of several years. The overlap between personal and business life is neglected in economic modelling, and it might be an interesting area for research.

8:23 Margaret points out that Yasmina started a business on her own - and that she's therefore had nobody to learn from or bounce ideas off. That's why she wants to be an apprentice, to learn from Alan Sugar. An interesting thought - and one I can sympathise with, having done the same thing. There's a big, invisible human capital structure that comes with working in a business and seeing how commerce is done. That definitely raises intriguing points about development economics, because if there is a weak corporate sector within an economy, it's hard for one to bootstrap itself.

8:22 I must admit I have underestimated Yasmina. She seems low-key but she's only been in the boardroom once. And they're telling a good story about why she has these capabilities. She's won five tasks, three as project manager, which is a great record.

8:21 A blanking out of Yasmina's "shit" when she realises she spent £700 on cosmetics. That was her closest scrape.

8:19 Yasmina is being made to look very competent and a strong manager. But remember last week's clip? Feels like she might be tripped up in the interview, with the interviewer getting copies of her company accounts.

8:17 Commenter Sara asks whether I have economic models that can predict the winner. An interesting question. So how would such a model look? It could be based on: statistics from previous shows; a model of Sir Alan's opinions (perhaps measurable from his prior comments about each candidate); or a skills and capabilities model. The last is closely related to the purpose of today's show, so let's give it some thought.

8:16 Funny to be typing times with an eight instead of a nine at the beginning. Almost an application of Benford's Law, perhaps.

8:15 Lorraine acknowledges Yasmina's business understanding as a strength. But it feels like she was put up to it by an editor.

8:14 Yasmina's turn. A few highlights - with a bit of ruthless prettiness and dominant sarcasm. An interesting fact: she's the only candidate with her own business.

8:00-8:09
 Welcome to "The Final Five", and I'm sorry to say I missed the first few minutes. So we're right into an analysis of Kate. A cute bit about her relationship with, and loyalty to, Philip. Nick is just wonderful this year. "Well...I suppose...all's fair in love and business, eh?"

Tonight the remaining five candidates will be grilled by several - very robust - interviewers who'll advise Alan Sugar on who measures up, whose past isn't quite what they claim, and who might crack under fire.

Check back at 8.00 tonight - not 9.00 - for live coverage here. There's an extra programme at 8 which profiles the five remaining candidates, so switch on your TV early. We'll be covering that programme as well as the main episode.

And while we're mentioning it, the grand final is not next Wednesday but this SUNDAY, 7th June, because of the England-Andorra football match on Wednesday. So a few days less of waiting around to get it over with (and hasn't it been a long, long time?)

As always we'll cover the economic theory that is revealed by the programme - in this case a bit of labour economics, some search theory and some intriguing behavioural theory - for instance the experiment that demonstrated people make incredibly accurate predictions from the first 2 seconds of meeting someone (or that their prejudices are entrenched within that period).

Look forward to talking with you all tonight.

3 comments:

Sara said...

Can't your models predict an outcome? Surely with all the data from the series to date there must be an aconomic model that suggests who will do better? No?

John said...

Hi

I've really enjoyed your commentary.

I do think you've misjudged Claude - as we know from previous series his particular role is to challenge the candidates by putting them under pressure and seeing how they defend themselves. He treated last year's winner, Lee, in much the same way as he treated James; the difference is that Lee was able to defend himself. Equally, tackling Yasmina about minor discrepancies on her accounts should have given her a chance to talk confidently about her business, instead of which she reacted very defensively to him having access at all!

In previous series we've seen more of the interviews (there have sometimes been fewer candidates) which makes clearer that the interviewers are tackling different areas.

Leigh Caldwell said...

Hi John

Fair point - in his brief appearance on You're Fired afterwards, he did clarify that he doesn't really conduct interviews like that. You're right that Yasmina should have had the command of her figures to stand up to him, so that does reveal something.

However, if she's only been running the business for a year, I'm not too surprised. I know people with a lot more experience than that who would struggle just as much.

Thanks for posting - hope you can stop by on Sunday.