Lessons From The Donald

Okay, I’m now completely sucked into this round of The Apprentice.

By the laws of Hollywood, it should have jumped the shark already… I at least expected the show to start obsessing more on the personal relationships of the group, to amp up the “soap opera” element for viewers too dim to follow the business lessons.

But the producers have resisted doing that… and good for them. They’re right to gouge deep into the “personalities” of the participants, because that’s a huge part of real business life. And this is a competition, with a lot at stake.

And yet, show after show somehow manages to present actual marketing lessons, interspersed with the mayhem and back-stabbing.

I like the whole approach. It’s riveting for a marketer.

This past show was good on several levels. The wonderful woman I share my life with — who is a marketing expert in her own right (but in the corporate world, not the entrepreneurial realm I lurk in) — noticed last season that the producers were “fore-shadowing” during the show… so, if you paid attention, you could actually predict who got it in the end.

Not so this season. There’s a tasty element of the board game “Clue” here — it’s nearly a murder mystery type of plot, with each character playing their role to the hilt. It’s Grand Guignol high theater.

And yet, it’s also real life. These people weren’t assigned roles, and aren’t reading from scripts. These are the types of deliciously-perverse characters that you can only hope populate your slice of the business world at some point or another.

During a dinner I hosted for the experts at my recent seminar, the table was packed with one of the strangest cast of real-life characters ever seen in one place. It was a legitimate version of the Algonquin Table… with all the clash of egos and flash of genius wit you only get when you’re really, really lucky.

I’m used to it, but it was refreshing to be reminded how lucky I am to have such larger-than-life people in my circle.

Let me tell you — it’s never boring when your colleagues include brilliant nut-cases and charming drama junkies.

And the current Apprentice cast isn’t boring, either. It’s like watching a good novel being written, and the characters evolve. There’s the arrogant smart guy (who gets his ego handed back to him in a bloody mess the first show)… the stout guy with the social skills of a chimpanzee (targeted as “must go” by the rest of his team, despite his proven ability to survive and see his enemies crushed instead, ala “Art of War”)… the sociopathic woman (shocked, shocked to discover her looks aren’t keeping her safe in this raw environment, and coming to terms with being out of control for the first times in her life)… the innocent kid, the jaded Israeli soldier, the scheming lawyer, the brewing emotional basket case…

It’s just fabulous theater.

Last week, hubris again won out. That seems to be standard operating procedure early in the show, because it’s happened a lot — project managers obsess on getting rid of someone they hate, and refuse to put their “friends” at risk in the boardroom (forgetting this is a game first)… and Trump tells ’em to take a hike, based almost entirely on the stupidity of not bringing the right people back in front of him to be fired.

God, it’s Shakespearean.

After the first few rounds of blood-letting, we no longer get to see the stunned faces of people who have never been told “no” in their lives before coming on the show… they all seem to get culled early.

Coming from humble beginnings myself, and surmounting a fair amount of adversity to get where I am, I cherish those moments of the privileged running face-first into a nasty life lesson like that. If they’re smart, they’ll allow the lesson to help them grow.

However, in the cab ride out, given the opportunity to have the last word, most choose to exonerate themselves, blame everyone else, and refuse to acknowledge they could have possibly been wrong about any decision they made.

Sounds like our current political landscape. The country is overflowing with hubris these days.

The Apprentice wannabe’s who survive to fight another round get to examine their belief systems more closely than at any other time in their careers. You can believe you’re an “idea guy”, or that your mere presence in a brainstorm meeting is magic because that’s what you’ve been told, or that “attitude” is what it’s all about… until those beliefs get shaken.

This group is lucky. They’re getting their belief systems rocked, hard, often and early. The opportunity to learn massive lessons in business are in their face every day.

Back when I was a slave to The Man in the corporate world, I would sometimes imagine myself being a character in a movie… just to survive the inanity and bullshit of the average day in the office.

I realize now that the tactic is actually a clue on how to live well. Count yourself lucky if you are surrounded by interesting characters, and your business presents a little drama now and again.

Life is about challenge.

So, if you’re gonna waste a few hours watching the boob tube, why not watch “deep” and learn more about the game of life. The Apprentice — for all its faults (including the jackass Trump, bless his larger-than-life heart) — is a giddy, exciting, real-time mystery novel I can’t wait to watch again.

And remember: The personalities you despise the most are likely reflections of your own personality. Maybe the dark side, maybe the side you’re just oblivious of right now. Pay attention to your reactions — your emotional response gauges only go ballistic when they recognize familiar behavior.

Something to think about.

Stay frosty.

John Carlton

PS: I see that someone, in a past comment, defended The Donald as being “real” or something. I never said he isn’t real, and he’s certainly a success. My warning is about his ideas on business — he really doesn’t have much to say in the way of useable advice, because he’s so full of his own platitudes (which he never actually follows himself). Maybe you could pick up a few good tricks from him, but mostly he’s about leveraging money and using inside contacts.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just that most entrepreneurs aren’t in a position to leverage money. They’re more about making it in the first place.

No. My beef is that Trump is just the ringleader of a great circus. He’s amazing entertainment, but not the reason the shows works like it does. The genius belongs to the producers, who set up the circumstances and games, and and stock the show with fascinating characters.

Martha Stewart is just as savvy as Trump… maybe more so, considering she actually did rise from nothing (where Trump was a privileged guy handed a headstart)… but her show bombed because she isn’t entertaining. She spouts the same platitudes as The Donald, but without the venom and viciousness.

Trump is almost a cartoon character, bullying and alpha to a ridiculous degree.

But, as a character, he shines.

I don’t like the man, but I love the character.

Just enter your name and primary email address below and we'll send you the new report right away.

"11 Really Stupid Blunders You're Making With Your Biz & Career Right Now."

  • David D. says:

    John, I think it’s more than just Donald’s “venom and viciousness.” He also has an extraordinary, underrated ability to go right to the core issue of a person or situation and ask just the right question or give just the right insight. One seldom thinks, “Hey, Donald, didn’t you notice this?” Or “Why didn’t you ask them that?” He asks what we would want to have asked, and even stuff we wouldn’t have thought to ask. And he makes observations that sum up a situation or person in a basic yet satisfying and insightful way. Sure, sometimes it’s a bit obvious (“Bob, nobody respects you. Nobody.”) But it’s often not obvious and always insightful, and concisely said.

    And Martha never seemed to have anything terribly interesting or insightful to say about anyone or anything!

    David D.

  • Jack Yan says:

    The dinner you hosted sounds more interesting. It?s worth remembering that a great deal of The Apprentice is fictionalized: from the way the edits are made to heighten drama, falsely, to the decisions that Mr Trump makes, which are evidently done so for ratings and the show?s continuation rather than sound business judgement. Reality TV? I think not. If participants didn?t sign releases I am sure losing members would find the show tantamount to defamation.
       It would have been more insightful to film your dinner and get your low-down on the participants (your blog entry is the next best thing!) as The Apprentice is a little too fake for its own good.

  • John Gilvary says:

    One surprising revelation by George in Dan Kennedy’s cd last month was that the board room session usually lasts about 2.5 hrs! What we see is the 10-minute version.

    I wonder how much more insight we’d get if we saw what ended up on the cutting room floor.


  • X says:

    I’m going to tout my horn, then tout John’s.

    John probably wouldn’t know who the hell I am if he knew who I am.

    I am X.

    Author of one of the most wickedly powerful, tactically brilliant, highest priced and best selling ebooks of all-time.

    Over $62,000 is 7 days.

    With no fluff, hype, prelaunch formula, advertising, affiliates, JV’s – nothing.

    Just one hardcore, kick ass product that has true Internet marketers salivating (and making money already).

    Although this book is technically brilliant, as I told you. It’s also entertaining; it has an attitude and it roars.

    And it was written while writing John’s salesletters for practice.

    I bought John’s copywriting course last June at a marketing conference, and without writing John for critiques (which has been I mistake), I’ve still learned a ton about writing to sell. I’ve effectively sold a $197 ebook – for $197.

    John – if I had your email address, I’d write you to send you a complementary copy. Yep. You get in free. 🙂 Whether you care about PPC advertising or not, I think you’d you’d like to know you played a part in this success.

    Thanks Man – You Rock!

  • Comedian-Turned-Copywriter says:

    Yes, X – right on!

    Writing Johns salesletters for practice is the KEY linchpin (a weird word I learned from John himself)

    I learned this myself from the great Lawrence Tabak(one of Garys ORIGINAL students) took me under his wing – back when I was 15 years old and wet behind the ears.

    Good job and good luck!

  • >