A Very Different Whitehouse

Hat tip to the Flickr Blog for highlighting the White House Photostream, which does seem to show a pretty candid behind the scenes view of the Obama White House.

I’m quite sure all the pictures have been suitably cleared, but it does seem that the photostream gives you a lot of behind the scenes views, so you get to see Obama picking his Oval Office chair, the new family dog being shown around, Obama watching his daughter play basketball, Obama and Biden practising putting, and even Obama watching the Super Bowl along with some of the more classic working in the Oval office type shots.

You also get to take a look at some of the iconic locations that are so well known, like the situation room, scenes on Air Force One reminiscent of the West Wing, the Roosevelt Room and the Cabinet Room.

There are numerous great shots – currently getting on for three hundred, just from the first one hundred days in office. Rather than list any more, I’ll just let them speak for themselves with the slideshow.

Apprentice Rule One: Read the Instructions

There is a classic mistake that candidates on the Apprentice make, over and over again they fail to read the instructions, miss the giant sized hints that they get given, and mess up as a result.

In previous series, the shopping list task has been about making the most money possible, getting everything on the list whatever the cost, this time it was a bit different…

Rather than a list of items to buy, there was a list of items to sell. The similarity was that mixed in amongst the bric-a-brac were some gems to catch the teams out – valuable shoes, a first edition of Octopussy and the most valuable item of the lot, an Indian rug.

The other big difference was in the scoring. Quite often the the Apprentice seems to attract sales types who will do anything to get a deal, any deal, a favourite strategy being the last ditch sell off to clear stock. In a normal scoring task, where it is purely about total sales, that would probably have won the task, but not this time.

The teams were told right at the beginning, that the task was about valuation, so at the end of the task rather than being a loss, unsold items had a value, as did the items they sold. At the end of the task they totalled up the value of all the sales, along with the valuations of the unsold items, and compared this to the total of all the expert valuations. As a result selling any items at a loss cost the team – it would have been better not to sell them at all. It said so in the instruction dossier that neither team bothered to read properly, and as a result both came back with a loss.

Exhibit number one, team leader Phillip trying to sell a rug that he’s decided is worthless. Note also that his nemesis Lorraine who spent most of last week telling him his idea was pants, is also right this week… Luckily for her Margaret is very clear who has the right idea, and even christens her Cassandra (to a totally blank look from Sir Alan) in the boardroom. 

Things weren’t much better on the other side. Here Noorul has an accurate valuation, but team leader Ben steps in and closes the deal on a stunning loss. Amazingly in the boardroom Noorul tries to take credit for this deal even when others point the finger squarely at Ben.

So with both teams making a total mess of it, eventually it came down to who made the biggest mess, and thanks in part to some luck – in particular selling the skeleton for above valuation to a bloke in a pub – Phillip came back with the smallest loss. He didn’t get off scot free though, as Lorraine got complimented for being right, encouraged to speak up, and Phillip got chastised for ignoring her feelings about the rug. Surprisingly after last week Lorraine seems like she might go further than I thought. Certainly it would have made an interesting boardroom if those two had gone in, because of the clear support Lorraine was getting from the other side of the table.

I wasn’t too disappointed though, as what the win meant was that Ben was in the firing line, and in my eyes clear favourite to go. Of course for Ben that wouldn’t be a problem as he had been offered a scholarship to Sandhurst, which he didn’t take. However as he tells the camera frequently it gave him the ability to think under fire. Like this bold, clear decision making over who to bring back into the second stage of the boardroom…

The irony of his rationalising here, cut short by Sir Alan is that his strategy to bring in two consistently weak candidates paid off and despite his weak performance as task leader, Sir Alan takes the opportunity to fire Noorul on the basis of previous performances instead, leaving Ben and Debra to ride again.

The two of them don’t get off unscathed though. Debra goes into her whole Rottweiler routine again, but also verbally attacks Nick – earning a swift reprimand. Ben was also seen to be floundering around, and clearly irked Sir Alan, and short of some sort of Damascus Road experience I suspect both of their days are numbered. I’d have been happy to see any of them go, and really I thought Ben deserved to go, but as has been pointed out in what is an entertainment show, the least entertaining candidate of the three went. Certainly I do look forward to the opportunity to see Ben flounder around, consistently proving that he lacks the skills and experience to back up his rhetoric, and equally the chance to see Debra open her mouth and put her foot in it. Whilst both of them seem to be trying to outdo themselves in arrogant rhetoric, Debra perhaps seems to have slightly more to back it up…

Pants

Some teams are just unmanageable. The divisions in Ignite that we saw last week came even more to the fore this week as Kimberly – an early favourite in some quarters to win – struggled to keep the all out war between bulldozer Philip and Lorraine in check. The problem was that the two of them came up with two lousy ideas. Although Philip bulldozed his idea over Lorraine, it is worth highlighting that her idea diverged from the project brief anyway in that it had multiple characters – the brief called for a single character – but with the two of them going for each other it just seemed to deadlock the rest of the team, rather than binning both ideas, they ended up running out of time and having to pick the least bad of the two, losing time and sanity in the process, and leaving them with no time for the vital box design.

The fundamental problem is that with this battle going on within the team, and continuing into subsequent days for someone who is about quiet, co-operative management, it is impossible to handle, and ends up being like a cancer eating away at the team. In the real world, you’d probably be able to work around such a conflict, but in the world of the Apprentice you’re doomed, and it really comes down to salvaging what you can from the task, and playing the boardroom right.

For the first part, salvaging the task, Kimberly seemed to play it right. After the catastrophe of the first day, she took control of the advert, and received a lot of praise for the result, she also seemed to be lining Philip up for the fall by letting him do the jingle. As an aside, Beth reckoned this sequence produced one of the best lines of the night, when the chap in the recording studio comments on how Philip sounds…

She then hands off the presentation to Mona, who makes an utter hash of it telling the client about the product rather than the campaign. However Lorraine starts to mess things up when it gets to the boardroom.

Within moments Lorraine is making her points, attacking Kimberly and distracting from Philip. At one point Sir Alan clearly points the finger at Philip, but taken by surprise by the turn around from Lorraine, Kimberly who has more than once in previous tasks protected her, ends up focusing some of the boardroom rhetoric there, instead of highlighting how Philip bulldozed any other ideas, and laying the blame squarely at his door. As a result it is Kimberly who takes the taxi ride, and Philip gets let off, despite the whole concept coming down to him. Really I think Kimberly was probably the only one worth keeping, and both Philip and Lorraine shown the exit.

Meanwhile, over on the other team, for once we had a great example of a well managed team, that pulled together. The initial idea was good, and although the advert was a classic example of a ropey Apprentice commercial, the team worked well together, and it was clear from pretty early on who was going to win. Certainly on this performance Kate has to be a favourite for overall winner, although the clips on You’re Fired showing her getting friendly with Philip does possibly count against her…

Next week though we do get a chance to mix things up again, with a new twist on the shopping list task. Rather than trying to buy a list of items for the best price, the teams are being given ten items to sell. As always with those tasks the devil is in the detail, and knowing your items is key. You can be certain that Sir Alan will have put some gotcha items in there, and I’m sure we’re going to see some of the candidates mess up spectacularly as a result.

I Don’t Do Costs

Sometimes the candidates on the Apprentice lose through multiple mistakes, sometimes it’s one catastrophic mistake. This week we had both, on the one side we had a poor leader, who struggled to guide his team, and produced a poor product, and struggled to sell his product. On the other side we had a popular leader, who produced a good product, sold well, but ended up making a catastrophic mistake, a mistake that produced a rare significant direct intervention in the task from Nick Hewer.

This was one of the clearest examples of a task that was lost rather than won. Had it not been for that mistake over costings, Noorul was a dead certainty to go. Having said that it was a close run thing in the boardroom, and really came down to Paula showing some integrity alongside Yasmina who turned on her friend to save her skin, and Ben who sadly failed to do quite enough to talk himself out of a job.

To be honest, I thought Ben had blown it for himself with the “I got a scholarship to Sandhurst� comment – he didn’t go by the way – but the point that swung it I think was Yasmina, had she agreed with Paula that Ben had been tasked with the costings too but had dodged his responsibilities, I think that would have changed the outcome. Unfortunately Yasmina turned on Paula and Sir Alan went with the majority decision amongst the boardroom candidates.

Sadly, Paula got the chop, and we’re left with Ben who is rapidly climbing my list of candidates to get rid of. Phil after going up a bit in my estimation last week, came right back down after he lost it with Kimberly primarily because she kept her cool and didn’t lose it with Noorul. Kimberly does seem to have the right attitude for business in real life, but whether she’ll survive against the likes of Phil and Ben remains to be seen.