The Apprentice for Dummies

Niccolo Pantucci · · Comment

We all think we're above The Apprentice. That we've grown out of the ritual humiliation of Britain's greatest egotists. At this point a new series arrives. We're reminded there's something timelessly hypnotic about supremely arrogant people failing at project management. Once I get going on a new series, I pause only to furiously hammer out sarcastic text message commentaries to friends. For the uninitiated, here's an introduction to the formulaic yet unfailingly entertaining world of BBC's The Apprentice.

Season 100: Still amused.

Pre-task

Originally aired in the USA in 2004 with Donal Trump as hard nosed head honcho, Britain's BBC Apprentice stars the slightly less charismatic Alan Sugar. While Señor Trump enjoys top banter with Obama, Lord Sugar keeps a slightly 'lower' profile. Still, the opening credits will dispel any doubt that Alan Sugar is a retired has-been, as we see him chauffeur driven around central London in his Bentley.

Once we're all clear on Lord Sugar's boss-man status, and last week's recap is over, the episode begins in earnest, with a phone call. It's 5AM and bleary eyed candidates rush to the phone to be told Lord Sugar's cars will be with them in twenty minutes.

The candidates arrive at a vaguely famous London venue. Lord Sugar, flanked by the trusty Nick Hewer and Karren Brady, explains the tenuous link of the venue to their task. Eg: "You're here at Canary Wharf, Canaries were often used in mines to warn of poisonous gas, GAStronomy is an ever growing trend in London where huge profit can be made."

A Note on Nick and Karren

Lord Sugar's chronically unimpressed lieutenants play a secondary role but steal the show, like Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet. For some, they're the only reason to tune in. They follow each team, taking notes and casting judgemental and incredulous looks. Impassive blank face = good. Any kind of expression, ie the Nick squint, or the Karren face palm = big trouble.

Nick Hewer at the birth of his first son.

The Task

The Task begins with selecting a Project Manager (PM). A confident team member may declare their divine right to lead. Or more likely is a blanket reluctance as everyone desperately clarifies that their skill set just isn't quite suited for this one. Once settled the teams begin batting around limp ideas like a deflated football and soon it's clear that managing a team of strong minded management types is hard work/hilarious viewing. Soon nobody is happy. Except the audience.

Now the PM selects a sub-team (aka Team Undermine). A frequent occurrence at this point is the sub-team conducting Market Research with a focus group, only to have the focus group's opinion ("none of us would buy a jacket with flashing lights on") totally overridden by the PM ("I've decided we're making a jacket with lights on"). This is an age old Apprentice tradition.

Pitching

Lord Sugar will lay on appointments with serious IRL companies for the teams to pitch. Individual candidates are chosen to pitch, but don't worry if you're not selected because you can butt in with (un)helpful corrections whenever you like. Expect much deep heartfelt praise for a dodgy product invented in the last 24 hours and liberal usage of the (now meaningless) phrases "highest quality", "luxury brand", and "finest materials". If you're lucky, a candidate will dry up completely and the camera will cut from raised eyebrow to stalled jowl via tapping fingers. The BBC knows how to edit a silence.

Rule No.1 of the Pitch: Love your product.

Selling

Now to sell. Witness a handful of socially inept entrepreneurs work a humble market stall, awash with people of average ego size. Watch the public do their best to avoid a violently keen man in a sharp suit try and convince them to buy a hot dog for £10. For the most part though it's a fist in mouth cringe-fest. Though sometimes a PM will identify and deploy the natural born sellers in their team. These charismatic natural born sellers will charm the pants of any old ladies within a square mile.

Toward the end of the day's trading there's a flurry of panic-selling to get rid of all extra stock. Sometimes the candidates will (literally) run to nearby shops, pubs, and restaurants. A hyperventilating gaggle of suits bursts in. They lunge for the tills flaunting tragically cheap products at a terrified till worker. Trading time over, end of task.

The Boardroom

A few soothing shots of Canary Wharf later, and we're in the boardroom (Don't be fooled, the board room is not in 8 Canada Square, it's in a distant, unglamorous television studio).

The candidates file in and play a high pressure game of musical chairs and some candidates have to look like they meant to not find a seat. There is some warm up lambasting of each team before Nick and Karren declare the winners. There's often a confusing numbers game when gross profit, expenses, and total profit are announced. The arithmetic and decimal points are confusing, and sometimes it takes a moment for teams (and audiences) to figure out who actually won.

N.B There is no correlation, I repeat no correlation, between performance on task, and winning. Team Omnishambles will often come out on top, and Team Quiet Confidence will be left to nurse a surprise loss. Of course it would undermine the entire premise of the show to acknowledge this, so no one ever does.

The best you can hope for, is to confuse him.

The winning team get sent on a treat which could be low budget and boring but could be a snap holiday to Iceland. Of course the real treat is being able to pretend that no one doubted victory, and no one has to get their hands dirty with the blame game. Not so for the losing team, exiled to the mysterious Bridge Cafe in darkest West London. No consolation fry up here though, candidates have to sip the bitter tea of defeat. Conversation turns to 'Who is to blame?' which roughly translates as 'Who is easiest to blame?'. This conversation soon boils down to a stony silence of glowering, brooding, and planning of boardroom strategy.

The Firing

The losing team are brought in, and after a mild full team melee the team leader is asked to pick two team members to face the final ordeal with them. Until now a double firing was a PTSD inducing event. In this series, TRIPLE firing has become the new double firing.

The final three go up against the wall. Soon, one will be sitting in a taxi telling the camera why Lord Sugar was wrong, WRONG I TELL YOU! This sequence is masterfully edited by the BBC for maximum embarrassment to all involved. American viewers might expect the British Apprentice's boardroom to be more demure, perhaps even polite. Rest assured it's a glorious masterclass on back stabbing, brick wall head bashing, and mud slinging.

After endless huffing and puffing and final pleas, someone is told "You're fired!". Now here comes the best bit of the show: the freshly fired candidate is made to sit in the lobby, while the two survivors file past and give them a begrudging handshake. Sometimes THERE ISN'T EVEN A HANDSHAKE. This brief moment is perhaps my most frequent pause/repeat moment on iPlayer and the insincere handshake or total blanking makes for great Snapchatting.

And there it is! One hour of supremely edited project management pornography. One week in which to digest, rant, and rave about the despicable acts we've seen committed by these over confident entrepreneurs.

Now get outta here...
You're fired!

6 Ways To Procrastinate Better

Niccolo Pantucci · · 1 comment

Here at Siasto we are all about productivity, but we were thinking what would be the reverse of our normal workday? How could we really be distracted and procrastinate well? Well for all you aspiring malingerers here are a few suggestions:

1. Keep instant messenger open when you work

You never know when your friend might have an important article to share with you, so why miss the instant sharing option! Rather than waiting to talk to friends at logical moments stay in sync, always. One thing you may gain though is the opportunity to collaborate more effectively with colleagues, whereby work related information can be easily requested and shared. But never mind that, gchat or Skype will let you also know what your know what you are doing NOW!

2. Read and answer trivial emails as they arrive

You'll get flooded with emails on an average day too much email. So by opening and reading them as they come in, you are guaranteed to reduce your ability to work efficiently, and increase the chances of reading about some great investment opportunities.

3. Try and read articles or watch videos while you work

Sometimes monotonous tasks can be done so repetitively that they start to require less concentration than others. Recently the Siasto team has taken to watching episodes of the Peaky Blinders while squashing bugs and other monotonous endeavors. It's an excellent way of staying up-to-date with your favorite show, we've also got a real penchant for reading the entire front page of Hacker News.

Informative Documentaries Are An Option

4. Check facebook and twitter at least twice an hour

You never know someone may have just posted some pictures from their recent visit to walgreens to buy some Oreos! That's definitely worth a like, or some lolz commentary. Checking social media outlets is an excellent way to procrastinate while you are dealing with your daily tasks. It's certainly something Siasto would encourage particularly if you are checking out our twitter feed.

5. Write long and detailed emails

Good email etiquette tells you to write good subject lines, and keep it short and to the point (http://www.mindtools.com/CommSkll/EmailCommunication.htm), but if you want to find a great way of procrastinating and annoying people, send detailed emails that meander and conjugate badly. And definitely don't use software that will reduce your need to email (ahem).

6. Take lots of breaks

A great way to waste time is by taking lots of breaks. Finished an email? Take a break! Completed a task? Take a break! etc. etc. If you take lots of breaks, and structure your entire day around a long lunch you are bound to procrastinate your day away. Another great way to whittle away the hours is have conversations with co-workers about well known TV shows, or social media, or good bars, or funny picz

Work Vs. Wimbledon

Niccolo Pantucci · · Comment

Last week the World Cup took a break for two days but I did not. I just moved on to Wimbledon. It wasn’t long before a Radio Five Live earpiece took up permanent residence in one ear and I walked around in a glazed eye daze, totally distracted. My unpredictable facial expressions and alternate elations and despairs became a problem in public.

Fortunately, I only got into Wimbledon during Andy Murray’s quarter final knock out. It was a week of intensive viewing and Federer loving, before Sunday’s clash of the indefatigable titans. It’s over now, but I do still spend much time telling people how much I love Federer.

The fragile work structures I’d constructed to manage the World Cup couldn’t handle Wimbledon at all. There’s just no telling how long a tennis match will go on, so it’s impossible to budget your working day around it correctly. It’s very clever that way. Did you know the longest tennis match was eleven hours and five minutes?! You can set aside 90 minutes for a football match, can you set aside 665 minutes for tennis? The World Cup just wanted you to fit your work around its own schedule. Wimbledon doesn’t want priority, it wants monopoly.

Getting hooked on a tennis match is easy, it’s a very simple game. You just have to hit the ball so the other person can’t hit it, or hits it wrong. To compensate for the brutally simple rules, the scoring system is absurdly complex. You could Google it, as millions clearly have , and you get this:

“In standard play, scoring beyond a "deuce" score, in which both players have scored three points each, requires that one player must get two points ahead in order to win the game. This type of tennis scoring is known as "advantage scoring" (or "ads").”

Not Google’s clearest moment. But there’s an entire Wikipedia article on the topic, which gives us this useful summary:

“A tennis match is composed of points, games, and sets. A match is won when a player or a doubles team wins the majority of prescribed sets. Traditionally, matches are either a best of three sets or best of five sets format. The best of five set format is typically only played in the Men's singles matches at Majors and Davis Cup matches.

A set consists of a number of games (a minimum of six), which in turn consist of points, with a tiebreak played if the set is tied at six games per player. Tennis scoring rests on the premise that serving is advantageous over receiving, hence it is only possible to win a set or match by breaking the opponent's service game at least once, before a tiebreak is required. Likewise, it is not possible to win a tiebreak without winning at least one point during an opponent's turn at serve (called a mini-break).

Dizzying stuff. It takes much watching, re-reading of Wikipedia, and blagging an understanding to friends to get the hang of the Tennis scoring system. What you certainly can’t do is keep half an eye on a freelance project while figuring out why a score would go from 15, to 30, but then to 40.

The final unpredicted distraction was that my mother (and many mothers it seems) just love tennis. They have an infinite capacity to chat about how lovely Federer is (as do I), or how they just wish they could cheer up Andy Murray, or what a character Rafael Nadal is. Wimbledon just had a way of inflating any parental catch up beyond usual niceties as they tried to articulate just what they never trusted about Djokovic. And who can say no to those rare moments of parental bonding?

Anyway, a good thing it’s Wimble-DONE and dusted. I can get back to work (watching the World Cup). Though I did just get an email from a friend asking if I wanted to come over and watch Le Tour...

The 80-20 Rule and You

Niccolo Pantucci · · Comment

There truly is nothing like peapods in gardens to reveal inherent truths of life and society. While most students of biology are no doubt familiar with Mendel's famous pea experiment that conferred upon humanity the foundational understanding of modern genetics, another famous observation on the properties of peapods established a principle of economics and business that we all live by and with today.

I speak of course of the Pareto Principle, or more colloquially the “80-20 rule.” This famous principle that has come to be used to explain wealth distributions, labor efficiency, and even sales figures all stems from the simple observations of an Italian economist, Vilfredo Pareto, and how his pea pods yielded fruit.

*Thank you peas for all that you have done for Science!

What is the Original 80-20 Rule?

In order to not turn this post into an ode to a food staple, suffice to say that while observing the distribution of pea yields in his garden, Pareto found that about 80% of the yield of peas came from about 20% of the pods. With this empirical observation digested, Pareto later observed that similarly about 80% of wealth in Italy was controlled by about 20% of the population.

By taking a quick look at U.S. wealth distribution today it is obvious that the original principle still holds true at a societal level today across a century and an ocean.

How Does the 80-20 Rule Apply to Business in General?

While wealth distribution in society generally follows the 80-20 rule and thereby affects everyone in a grand way, the 80-20 rule more interestingly affects every business in a quite specific way. Applying Pareto’s Principle to company level operations, famous management consultant Joseph Juran observed that the 80-20 rule yields the following general truths about a company’s operations:

- 80% of a company's profits come from 20% of its customers - 80% of a company's complaints come from 20% of its customers - 80% of a company's profits come from 20% of the time its staff spend - 80% of a company's sales come from 20% of its products - 80% of a company's sales are made by 20% of its sales staff

Juran went on to term his observations the rule of “the vital few and the trivial many.” Or in essence:

Does the 80-20 Rule Affect You?

With the understanding that the 80-20 rule functions at the societal and organizational level, the question is begging “does this rule hold true for individuals”? In a word, Yes. Ask yourself what percentage of time that is spent at the office leads to actual sales, project completion, or increased value for your company? Now, think of the time that is spent completing expense reports, sending time-consuming emails to coworkers, preforming ad hoc tasks not in your core functional role, or pursuing fruitless ventures. Which of these two areas takes up more of your time?

I would venture a guess that the highly productive activities like project completion make up only about 20% of your time whilst the less productive activities like in-office email constitute roughly 80% of your time. However, by understanding that the valuable 20% of your time leads to 80% of your productivity, you can harness the 80-20 rule to your advantage.

*The 80-20 rule in action

How You Can Use the 80-20 Rule to Your Advantage!

The hardest part of improving work habits is realizing that they can be improved. By first realizing that the 80-20 rule is at play you have already started the process of improving your productivity and efficiency. Moreover, here are a few things that you can do to optimize your time by working smarter with the 80-20 rule.

- Determine what time of the day you are most productive and spend that period (your 20%) working on the most important things.

- Determine what activities produce 80% of your output and concentrate on those facets of your work letting other activities fall down the priority list.

- Outsource or delegate peripheral parts of your work if at all possible so that you can focus on the most important things you do.

By understanding how the 80-20 rule works and using it to your advantage you can become a more productive and happier individual while on the clock.

Work Vs. The World Cup

Niccolo Pantucci · · 2 comments

Cometh the World Cup. At the back of my mind, I thought maybe... just maybe this would be the one. Maybe this tournament, after all these failures, would be the tournament which finally, I would ignore fully. And like clockwork that niggling optimism was dashed as I found myself goggle eyed, transfixed on the first match: Spain’s 5-1 drubbing by Holland. As I sacked off another work assignment to join the communal mourning for Iker Cassillas’ goal keeping skills, I realised once again, I am committed.

This nascent World Cup has already wrought havoc on my work schedule. Purely for the amount of screen time required to keepy up. Supporting one team alone would be fine, but who supports one team? Here’s a rough breakdown of teams to support:

-Primary team(s): Countries you support through birth, heritage, country of residence, or sweepstake draw.

-Countries you just always liked the sound of: Mexico, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Japan.

-Any team with an interesting kit: Cameroon, Croatia, Iran (look closer, there’s a VERY subtle leopard/jaguar).

-The underdog in any given match.

And presto, you’re committed to 90 minutes match time+ 60 minutes punditry on all 64 matches played. A total of 160 hours to dedicate to the World Cup. The work life will suffer I’m afraid.

It’s not just the quantity of time required, but the way it’s distributed through the day. Brazil’s time zone means matches are taking place between dinner time, and 2am. So good bye to a good night’s sleep. Then during the day you’re busy digesting the bleary eyed analysis of the previous nights events.

What’s more: those evening hours ain’t free. There’s a knock-on effect here. How will you watch the Game of Thrones season finale on Monday night when Germany are playing Portugal, then Iran are playing Nigeria, then the USA are playing Ghana? I had a friend claim he was going to knock off early and watch Game of Thrones in the day time (in the daylight! Can you imagine?!), so he could watch the footie at night. What times are these we live in? In making room for the World Cup, some commitments will suffer, and I’ll be damned if it’s Orange is the New Black, Boardwalk Empire, Orphan Black, Treme, or Adam Nicolson’s documentary on the whaling industry.

Now for the hidden cost of the World Cup: hours upon hours of incessant arguments, pointless as they are time consuming. These debates will infest all the usual workplace haunts: Facebook, Twitter, G-chat (and maybe the water cooler and work emails, I wouldn’t know). Since we’re all now opt-in experts it’s our duty to engage in serious discussion about Raheem Sterling’s sprinting capabilities, or if we should play Wayne Rooney in the next fixture (well, no debate there, HUR HUR HUR). These arguments will find you, and they will consume you.

If you structure your life around a fragile working schedule that’s carefully propped up by television shows and meal times, the World Cup will come in like a wrecking ball. You are totally screwed. At the same time, the World Cup is really fun, and enough people sack off the summer’s work for it that you’re in good company with safety in numbers. In any case, it’ll all be over soon enough. And then there’s Wimbledon.

Hola Siastobros!

We took a leaf out of friend's in Mountain View: Google; and decided it was time to make your life a little easier. Unfortunately, we didn't build a self-driving car... yet. But it's time to introduce a much better way of finding your things in Siasto: Search!

Now you'll be able to find folders, documents, users, tasks, and projects by simply entering your search term and you'll find what you are looking for!

You'll now see, as shown below, a magnifying glass next to your logo, that you can select and enter your search term.

Once you've entered your search term, as shown below, you'll be offered all of the potential items that could relate to your query, and you will then be linked to them directly.

Benefits

Having the ability to search your entire team will make it much easier for you to navigate your tasks, projects, documents, files, and entire team.

You now won't need to remember specifically where you have saved an exact document in a particular folder; all you need to do is enter the name of the document and Siasto will find it for you!

Ohhhh Oligopoly, one of my favorite childhood board games.

I can recall spending many-a-afternoon with my friends trading exclusive operating areas, metering upload speed to customers, all the while hoping not to land on the FCC Regulation Avenue… What fun it was.

Wait a minute that was Monopoly; my false memories are of the current state of affairs of the cable and telecom industry. In an alarmingly similar way to the manner in which players monopolize corners in the timeless game of Monopoly, the four biggest broadband providers in the United States have consolidated their empires to the point where they each have vast influence of individual markets and the industry as a whole.

Collectively AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Time Warner today control around 70% of the Broadband market in the United States when based on user subscriptions. Additionally, with the pending merger between Time Warner and Comcast potentially clearing regulation, one company could soon dominate between 35% and 40% of the cable subscription and broadband market.

While all of this is disconcerting to say the least we can at least rest assured that American regulators at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will regulate this non-competitive market right?

Put succinctly, the FCC is worthless. Earlier this month the commission voted to adopt new rules that would permit Internet “fast lanes.” Or in reality, allow Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to extort more money from content providers by slowing down network speeds.

While this ruling is still open for public comment (mostly by internet trolls) the fact remains that Internet extortion may be here and Net Neutrality maybe a thing of the past.

Nevertheless, rest assured that the FCC made this decision for far-sighted reasons and that the chief regulator of the communications industry is not formerly the industry’s chief lobbyist. Wait a minute, Tom Wheeler was; and now he is the chairman of the government body that regulates his former industry… Sarcastic Bear what do you think?

So let us recap, we have four ISPs who dominate around 70% of the market, a pending merger to consolidate two of those four ISPs into one company, a chief regulator who used to be the chief lobbyist for these ISPs, and as of yesterday, a cease and desist order from Verizon to Netflix due to Netflix’s informing of Verizon’s customers of Verizon’s slow network speed.

Welcome to Oligopoly: The Slow-Streaming Money Extorting Internet Game…

Double Feature Day!

Niccolo Pantucci · · Comment

We have two more exciting features to announce!

You can now insert clickable and viewable video links in your Siasto discussions. And you can now assign tasks and have discussions with outside users/non-team members!!

Video Links

You'll now be able to share clickable video links with your colleagues. All you'll need to do insert the URL of the video you want to share with your colleague in a Discussion comment. The video will then appear in your Discussion feed as show below:

Your colleagues can then either watch the video in the discussion feed, or open the video in a new browser tab.

Interact With Non Team Members

You can now invite non-members of your Siasto team to tasks and discussions. This means that if a colleague is not part of your Siasto team, they can still receive notifications for Tasks and Discussions.

They will appear in your discussions like this:

Then when your colleague replies you'll see this:

This means your outside colleague can reply from their inbox directly to the discussion without having to login to Siasto, and everyone within the team will also be able to see their comments.

Benefits

Being able to share video links with your colleagues will mean that you won't any longer have to open new browser tabs, and new windows to simply view content. You can now view them directly in your Siasto discussion. Allowing you to see the context of why the link was shared as well.

Now that you can share tasks and discussions with people outside of your Siasto team, you can more easily assign and communicate with colleagues who may not be using Siasto. It's a great way of keeping all your communications centralized in one place. Meaning all your Siasto team mates will be up-to-date with what is going on in a project.