Mark Burnett & Cargo Cult Competence

Further to my prior post about managerial incompetence and my cargo cult theory, I was shelf-surfing in a bookstore recently and ran across a new book by Mark Burnett (of Survivor and The Apprentice fame) called “Jump In”. While I’m not usually drawn to that sort of thing, I am fascinated by Burnett’s story and chutzpah, and I scanned the book — only to immediately come across this on-point passage:

Casting The Apprentice was completely different from any type of casting I’d yet experienced. There were shocking levels of intellect and resumes of staggering depth to consider. Normally, part of the process is to weed out the wannabe actors and musicians who are hoping to get on the show and have instant careers. That was not a problem with The Apprentice. The applicants were inspirational because of their successes and were very polished. However, that proved to be a problem. All these people had spent countless hours learning how to interview for a job. They’re been rigorously trained to put their best foot forward. What I needed for the show, however, was to see the real person, someone with many facets. So the interviews became a little like peeling an onion layer-by-layer trying to uncover what lies beneath. The ones who made the show did so because they were capable of revealing parts of their background they might not otherwise reveal during a professonial business interview ….
[Emphasis added]

Did you get that? Burnett complains that it was so much harder casting for the The Apprentice than his other shows because those darn businesspeople were so good at giving the superficial appearance of competence. While that is bad enough, remember that his people are pros and the people he was interviewing were junior employees. Imagine how much harder it is detect incompetence when someone has a few decades experience at hiding their burnt-out bulb under a bush.


  1. David Bennett says:

    It’s scary especially because I’ve known highly competent people who were humble and tried to give honest statements about their capacities which worked out to their disadvantage. Perhaps one of the more penetrating books on the kind of bureaucracy we are building is Zinoviev’s Yawning Heights, written to describe the situation in the USSR, very long which can be read in fragments, but which suggests how this kind of thing acts to mantain itself. Delve into it one gets a sense of predictive logics about how these organizations and the individuals within them will behave.

  2. charles stewart says:

    need to talk to mark burnett, dont know why he would talk to me im a nobody living in iowa. 43 year old x factory worker african american man with an ideal.maybe the ideal that will change telivision.if you dont want to respond ok,iunderstand, but your missing somhting i have you could introduce to hollywood.who ever gives this email to mark will be a hero in my eyes at least

  3. P Seymour says:

    Charles, I was wondering if you ever got a message into Mark Burnett. Please comment if you did.