The Dragon’s Den and The Apprentice – Emotional Intelligence in Business

The importance of emotional and embodied intelligence to business is obvious from watching The Dragon’s Den and The Apprentice.

Running a business in the UK you get to know about these programs because they’ve both massively influenced the public’s ideas of how business works. In The Dragon’s Den (originally Japanese) hopeful contestants pitch entrepreneurial ideas before a group of rich investors who normally give them a mean spirited, rude questioning. The UK version of The Apprentice is just like the US version with a group of contestants going through various trails to get a “dream job” with one of the richest and cantankerous men in the country – Alan Sugar (knighted for making lots of money so if you want to kowtow you can call him Sir Allen). These programs are the reason that I can chat about “target demographics” to my friend Bob the teacher and why Aunt Bessie thinks she can give me business advice at the Walsh family get together, so are somewhat of a mixed blessing. Some of the business stereotypes they enforce include:

– Being rude is equivalent to having good business sense
– It’s important for those with less money to grovel to those with more
– Emotions have no say in business

I’d like to look at the last one of these. In both shows I contend that Allen Sugar and The Dragon’s are highly emotional and intuitive in their decisions. They often accept or reject participants/products on their gut instincts and emotional reactions. Take Reggae Reggae Sauce – now widely available in supermarkets despite a incompetent financial pitch. Sauce chef Levi Roots had them with his song, personality and taste test. He got their hearts and came across as trustworthy and sincere because of his tone and body.

Sometimes an emotional and intuitive (read embodied) approach is honoured as what is actually happening, mostly however it is not and rationalisations abound. Both Allen Sugar and The Dragons clearly have good instincts to have gotten where they are now, so why deny this aspect of being human? Pretending it doesn’t exist can also lead prejudice to slip into intuition (they’re sometimes hard to distinguish) and emotions cloud rationality (rather than drawing from them both). If I were to asses the emotional intelligence of the UK Dragon’s I’d rate them as low of emotional awareness and empathy, average at emotional control and relationship building, but high on intuition and in Theo’s case humour and expression.

In the Apprentice it is even more apparent that what it’s a test of is not cognitive intelligence or skills (which are often job specific and can be learnt) but character. I could easily teach HR professionals to assess through the body what takes Allen adn co. weeks to find out through various tasks. HR personnel can benefit hugely from learning how to make “somatic assessments” of people through the body. The truth is that we all asses peoples’ character and trustworthiness in this way, it’s just that most of us aren’t trained to do so.

Business/ HR So What: Business is in many ways still stuck in the Victorian Age, I’d like to see emotional intelligence and embodied knowledge make an impact so we can all be human at work. This is a major reason I do what I do.