In episode 4 of The Apprentice: Martha Stewart, the three-time-loser creatives of Matchstick faced the corporates of Primarius in a battle of visions—visions of the ultimate hotel suite. Before either team took on the task of designing the plot-perfect Westin luxury penthouse, Martha tried to even the teams out. Primarius’ Leslie came over to be project manager for the sad sacks of Matchstick, and hopefully lead the hapless creatives to their first victory. But not even super-saleswoman Leslie could pull Matchstick out of the ditch. For the fourth time running, Primarius finished in first. And Matchstick’s four-fecta was their worst yet. This time, they did not even finish the task. Time ran out before Matchstick could get furniture delivered to their renovated resort room.
Both teams were given two days to conceive and remodel a themed Westin hotel suite—
best theme wins. The task seemed well-suited for Matchstick’s mentality. But the clueless creatives squandered their conceptual advantage by wasting 6 precious hours debating ideas. All their deliberation resulted in Jim suggesting an all-time lame theme, “FLOW,” an abbreviation version of “For Leisure Or Work.” Matchstick’s dunderheaded time management forced Bethenny to buy all the team’s furniture in 8 minutes (all the time left before the furniture store closed) and the whole team to stay up all night painting. The whole team, that is, except Dawn, who insisted she was either too tired to paint or that somehow a paintbrush doesn’t fit her hand. When the Westin executives arrived the next afternoon to see the work, Matchstick’s suite was painted, but featured not a stick of furniture. Even project manager Leslie’s smooth sales presentation was no match for the glaring reality that Bethenny’s furniture delivery men failed to arrive on time.
Primarius, by contrast, was a study in synchronized solidarity. Their sweet suite story line was “Westin entertains,” a gaming theme complete with flower bowls filled with poker chips, vases overflowing with dominoes, and a fragrant popcorn machine to make that Sunday football watching experience complete. Project manager Amanda kept her teammates on-point with corny gifts of sharpened pencils. And then she masterfully sold the concept to her customers with such aplomb that the Westin executives handed her the ultimate complement—”it doesn’t look like a hotel.”
After Matchstick’s loss, Project manager Leslie brought two teammates—Dawn and Bethenny—into the conference room to face elimination and a humiliating personal “thanks for playing” letter from Martha. But while Leslie led the losers and Bethenny’s sofa deliverymen never showed, Matchstick’s weakest link was clearly Dawn. Any true Marthonomist knows that above all, the domestic diva is America’s Hardest Working Homemaker. In the end, Martha could not stomach Dawn’s laziness. And finally, Dawn got shown the door.
Lesson 1—Creativity is useless if you run out of time to show it to your customer.
As someone who started out as a caterer, Martha knows that an on-time carrot stick beats an hour-late souffl any day. By being unable to finish their suite, Matchstick’s potentially brilliant theme will never get a chance to entertain a guest.
Lesson 2—Excusers are losers.
Dawn became Matchstick’s unmatched excuse-maker. In episode 4, all her excuses came home to roost. She made excuses for not being able to paint, and for sleeping in too late, both of which frosted Martha.
Lesson 3—Risk-takers get the benefit of the doubt.
Even though Leslie was Matchstick’s project manager for perhaps the most lopsided loss in Apprentice history, Martha cut her slack for volunteering to switch teams to head Matchstick. As an entrepreneur herself, she appreciates the courage it takes to face an uphill battle.
Lesson 4—Stories sell, especially if they are well-told.
By masterfully telling the “Westin entertains” story of her team’s suite theme, Amanda put her team firmly in the winner’s circle. Even if Matchstick had eventually finished its suite, Primarius’ suite story would have won the day, both for its plot line and its telling. Martha Stewart has made a fortune by telling a story of contemporary homemaking that nearly everyone enjoys. And when she sees a good story and storyteller, she is always the first to applaud.
Next week, Martha foreshadowed a team shuffle, which should put some of Matchstick’s malfunctioning members alongside Primarius members. And finally, we should start seeing more competitive contests, and even more great business lessons. Stay tuned.
Jay Whitehead is America’s most-read, most-watched human resources and career media personality. Jay can be reached at Jay@JayWhitehead.com.