We just watched last week’s episode of “The Apprentice”, thanks to TiVo. It’s the only prime time show I watch, and I can tell it’s about ready to jump the shark… but for now, it’s still compelling television.

Dan Kennedy watches the show, too, by the way. So do quite a few other business people I know. And not in a passive way. Nope. We watch this crap because there are nuggets of marketing and business genius in every episode.

It’s like a little brainstorm session. There’s nothing remotely like it anywhere else. But I’m sure the network will screw it up soon.

Anyway, if you watched, the “Book Smarts” group lost again. The “Street Smart” group — mostly young entrepreneurs who barely finished high school — have been steadily kicking their ass. Literally knocking the smug looks off those Ivy League mugs.

Here’s why I’m blogging on it: A couple of recent behavioral studies discovered a very interesting thing about your fellow human beings. I’ve written about it twice in the Rant — namely, that there are people who are completely incompetent… yet do not recognize this flaw in themselves.

Finding out about this study resolved so many questions I’d had bugging me for years. I feel better knowing what’s going on, and I now feel prepared to deal with similar situations in the future.

What the study found is that an unnervingly large part of the population consists of people who will screw up everything they touch. Everything. Because they do not have the skills needed for even the simplest job. And they will never acquire the skills, either. For they are incompetent at the cellular level.

However, they view themselves as highly competent. It’s massive denial, and soaring self-deception. But they aren’t fooling themselves.

They actually believe they are really good at everything they do. It’s not an act.

And when things go wrong, it’s always someone else’s fault. Or there are other reasons why they failed. Sometimes these reasons are mysterious, and hard to explain.

It is never, however, their fault.


I don’t even have to ask if you’ve ever met one of these types in your life. They are unavoidable.

And their sincere belief and insistence that they are great at what they do, and couldn’t possibly be the reason things failed, is very convincing. You begin to doubt reality.

Certain situations have haunted me for years. My mind and experience told me a particular person was responsible, and obviously so… but their heated defense made me doubt my own senses.

Now, I’m on the look-out for clueless incompetents. You will never convince them they’re losers, however. Don’t even try. The self-delusion runs too deep for even advanced psychotherapy.

Back to the Trump show: Michael, the guy who got fired last week, is a pure example of this syndrome.

I was so stunned to see incompetence and denial in action that I ran to write this blog after the show ended.

It’s beautiful. This guy has bad ideas, is a walking hunk of negativity, and actively does things that guarantee failure.

Yet, in his eyes, he is brilliant, sexy, and the ONLY guy who could have saved his team. It was ONLY through the ineptitude of everyone else that things went south. They are doomed, without him.

This guy will never learn. He will never have that “aha” moment, where he sees that the huge problem in his life, all this time, was him and no one else.

He will go from situation to situation, screwing things up, blaming everyone else, and walking away from the smoldering ruins amazed that no one recognized his genius.

Even better, new situations will continue to open up for him… because often, bullshit walks. You tell me you’re brilliant, that you can do all this wonderful stuff, that you’re the most competent and talented guy around… and it sometimes will get your foot in the door.

Well, that is, it would have before I got hip to what’s going on.

In music, it’s easy to see who’s full of it. Just hand them an instrument, and you’ll know immediately if they can back up their bragging.

Unfortunately, in bidniz, it takes a little longer.

Still, fore-warned is fore-armed.

Side note: In case you’re wondering, I think Trump is a nutcase. He’s not near as savvy as he perceives himself, and I’m constantly appalled at the butt-kissing his assistants do. That organization looks like a living hell to my eyes.

But the format of the show still has legs. This match-up of street vs. college was a brilliant concept.

And egos are getting smashed. Always fun to watch that happen.

John Carlton

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  • I just watched the re-broadcast on CNBC. I agree that the dude that got fired deserved it, but I think the other girl is TOXIC to the group. She’s pretty negative.

    Trump noticed some things about the dude (heretofore christened “goofball”) that really turned him off and I felt the same was as Trump. For instance, the guy was actually being all touchy-feely with his project manager who just BLASTED him in the board room, kissing his ass and such. Real turn off.

    Then, the goofball kept interrupting the project manager while he BLASTED Ms. Toxic – this really got on Trump’s nerves. I bet he actually intended to fire Ms. Toxic but Goofball’s tragic errors got Trump so riled he pulled the trigger on him.

    There was one girl on the college grad team that said something about having more “street hustle” – Trump and his underlings got turned on – but the rest of the college grads had blank looks on their faces.

    Good stuff! I noticed one of Trump’s “attributes” is the ability to steamroll weak people. He has that reality-bending single-minded determination that non-entrepreneurs can’t stomach.

    — Jason Bedunah

  • LOL – I’m with you on this one. I’ve run across sooo many incompent people who “think” they know it all.

    I love watching The Apprentice too for the same reasons.

    I know someone on the Street Smarts team will wind up winning in the end, because really, street smarts are what counts. It’s that hands-on experience that gives entrepreneurs an edge.

  • While I completely agree with this assessment, I’ve got a real quick question. You say that “[t]his guy will never learn. He will never have that ‘aha’ moment, where he sees that the huge problem in his life, all this time, was him and no one else.” So what happens after this “aha” moment? What changes must then occur for this clown to become a helpful, productive team player?

  • David Deutsch says:

    General von Manstein, a German officer, identified four different types of officers and their degree of danger or usefulness:

    1. Lazy and stupid ??? Harmless, because they never do anything or will rise high enough that will make trouble with their stupidity

    2. Hard working and intelligent – The best combination

    3. Hard working and stupid ??? The most dangerous!

    4. Lazy and intelligent ??? Also harmless but ineffective ??? yet perhaps ideally suited for the military!

    Like you, I???ve been struck by people???s astonishing lack of self-awareness on the show ??? even when it is blatently evident, pointed out to them by Trump and others, etc.

    Perhaps, however, some of this has to do with the type of person who would be willing to expose their lives to millions of people 24 hours a day for however many weeks. Surely, these would self-select to be the type of people who feel they are wonderful and have nothing to hide. But still…

    The mind is very much like the body. The body will do whatever it takes to preserve itself and keep itself alive. Core temperature goes down too much? It starts taking blood from the extremeties. You may lose some fingers, but you???ll stay alive.

    Same with the mind. When it feels threatened, it does what it feels it must to preserve it???s self image by creating its own version of reality. You may get fired. You may be a miserable failure at home and at the office. But your self-image will be preserve.

    P.S. On the next episode, Stephanie returned to from the Boardroom and said she didn’t hold a grudge from everyone’s criticisms, and that she was glad to learn so much about herself because that was why she was there. Gotta admire being willing to admit your failings in front of your teammates and 20 million people. Be interesting to see if her self-awareness gives her an edge as the competition progresses.

    Hey, we ought to start a pool and make this interesting.

  • James Jones says:

    Apprentice has jumped the shark. It’s painfully obvious that the contenders this time around were picked for their incompetence and arrogance instead of their skills. It’s so contrived
    it might as well have a script. There is not one person on either team that I would hire to manage a hot dog stand.

    As for as the terminally incompetent — I have found an unusual number of these people have email addresses that end in

  • mark says:

    Hey John. I watched a few episodes of The Apprentice but got bored. This basically shows people’s flaws. Most aren’t willing to admit they are shitty at the simplest tasks.

    I know I am. I continue learning.


  • Jesus Miguel says:

    It’s like Hitler said. “A lie told thousands of times, could become a truth”

    I did that shit in the past too…

    “I’m so smart, I’m so intelligent, yada, yada.”

    It’s an ego thing.

    The thing that snapped me back, was one phrase I read:

    If you are that smart. “Why are you not friggin rich?

    Now I realized with everything I learn. That there is so much to learn.

    Seeing our own blind spots isn’t easy at all though

    Thank you John, for helping me out with doses of reality like this.

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