Sorry Alan – nasty’s got no business here anymore

On the 14th of February 2005, The Apprentice burst onto our screens.


“Being in touch with this changing mindset is going to be important to brands who want to lead with ambition, become attractive to customers and not stay stuck in the dark days of The Apprentice…”


As ten hot-headed suits, with little-to-no regard for human feelings, wheeled their suitcases across the concourse at Liverpool Street station, audiences across the UK embarked upon what promised to be a voyage of discovery, of how ‘real business works’ with lots of early mornings, shouting, and firing.

Fast forward to season 15 and almost nothing about the show has changed. It still promotes aggression as the key to success, that a necktie automatically means you’re important, and that it’s every man and woman for themselves in the modern workplace.

And it could not possibly be more out of step with the real world. 

This was evident at WIRED Smarter 2019, where a gathering of the most progressive business leaders in the world shared their views on the future, and the message was loud and clear – business is changing for the better. 

It’s important to note that only five years ago at events like these, everyone was talking up the importance of chasing ‘Unicorn Status’ at any cost. Now, the feeling is that all brands should be aiming for B-Corp (those who can prove they balance profit and purpose.)

I believe that being in touch with this changing mindset is going to be important to brands who want to lead with ambition, become attractive to customers and not stay stuck in the dark days of The Apprentice – so here are five pieces of progressive advice from WIRED speakers on the day.

1. Stand down, soldier

John Vincent, co-founder of Leon, gave a great talk on a topic that’s not only highly pertinent to marketers, but to entire businesses.

Simply put, we all need to step away from the ludicrously militaristic corporate language we now use. Enough with the ‘aggressive targets’, ‘war rooms’, ‘air cover’ and ‘battle cards’. It’s time for something a little more human and positive.

Indeed, after implementing this strategy at Leon, a genuinely productive and positive change was observed (which you can read all about this in his new book ‘Winning not fighting’).

2. Move fast and maintain things

The ‘move fast and break things’ mantra made famous by Facebook and now ubiquitously pinned up on start-up office walls should now be relegated to the past, according to Monzo’s chief, Tom Blomfield.

He talked about how, while things at Monzo need to move fast, it should always be done with consideration for people, for the planet and for wider society.

The days of profit at any cost should be behind us, and a more considered growth plan is essential if you want to be truly progressive.

3. Balance profit with purpose

“But!” Says Tom Blomfield. “But!” Profit isn’t evil, it just needs to be balanced with purpose. A changing, more considered business environment or brand doesn’t need to be a non-profit or a charity.

A business can still put profit at the heart of what it does whilst simultaneously doing good in the world – so don’t be shy of letting people know that yours is a company with big financial ambitions (it doesn’t make you bad people).

4. Culture’s not a beanbag

A company’s culture isn’t defined by office slides and beanbags, as observed by Bruce Daisley, author of ‘The Joy of Work’, rather “If you really want to adapt to a changing world, culture should be a reflection of the way you do things”.

What this means in practice is putting real structures in place for flexible working, creating processes that support mental health issues, and establishing a core focus on diversity and inclusion. 

5. The future is circular

The final point, and arguably the most important, is that every future-thinking business needs to be concerned about the future of the planet. Many of the talks at WIRED Smarter focused on sustainability and the need for a circular economy model.

Elvis & Kresse explained in their keynote talk how their rescue-transform-donate model proves that it’s possible to be a sustainable and ethical brand in the luxury goods space whilst also remaining profitable.