Just at a time when I was in need of distraction, BBC Two has threw some televisual gold my way last night with the new series of Dragon’s Den. I’d call it guilty pleasure TV, but the fact is I learn more about business pitches, investing and running a company from it than I do from sources like the Economist.
The long-running formula involves hapless investors pitching their ideas to a bunch of entrepreneurs who do their best to fit the snarling, hard-nosed stereotype. The schadenfreude factor comes when they realise they haven’t prepared enough/have no idea about their figures/have a product that no-one wants, and are subsequently ripped to pieces by the “dragons”. It’s an interesting presentation of entrepreneurship and business, as while you’re entertained by the dragons, you don’t admire them (and you’re probably not meant to).
At the time when the US show The Apprentice was about to be adapted into a British version, I read someone’s opinion that the UK had an anti-enterprise culture as opposed to the US (can’t remember where, or I’d link it). Comparing the two shows, it looks like Dragon’s Den is far more about individual enterprise than The Apprentice – after all, in the former contestants have to have a business or idea that they can build into a profitable organisation. With The Apprentice, it’s all about following doing whatever Donald Trump (or Alan Sugar) tells you.
And even the choice of tycoon makes the show seem dated. Trump was presumably chosen on his reputations as the brash, go-getting businessman of the 1980s, and he plays it as if nothing had happened in the intervening two decades. The companies that make big money and capture the public imagination nowadays – the Googles and the YouTubes – are run on a completely different corporate culture. It would be quite interesting to see a show where a bunch of hopefuls work for a pair of web visionaries, getting pushed to think up the next hugely popular application and taking time out in the bean bag room or whatever they have at Google HQ. Still, given the choice between that and Duncan Bannatyne sneering at someone’s flimsy business proposal, I go for humiliation and suffering any day.