The unhelpful lessons that Dragons’ Den and The Apprentice teach people

There’s something compelling about watching business people on the TV. Both those who have made the big time and those aspiring to do the same are both intriguing and entertaining. It’s no wonder then, that shows like The Apprentice and Dragons’ Den, as well as international counterparts such as Shark Tank, are hugely popular.

But have you ever stopped to think about the impact these shows might have on a young person? Are the portrayals of businesspeople fair and accurate? Are they helpful?


The impact of business TV shows on kids


First and foremost, TV shows are for entertainment purposes. Without strong opinions, emotions and drama, no one would watch. This means that the characters in shows like Dragons’ Den and The Apprentice are just that. Situations are contrived, the events highly edited, and the lead actors exaggerate their roles.

There are mixed opinions about the impact of Dragons’ Den and The Apprentice on business and the kind of role models the Dragons and Lord Sugar provide impressionable children and young adults. Let’s take a look.


Lessons from The Apprentice and Dragons’ Den


Here are five of the questionable lessons they teach:


Successful business people are ruthless and hard-nosed

Dragons’ Den: The Dragons rarely pull any punches once they’ve found a hole in a contestant’s product, personality or business plan. Do you remember Theo’s destructive demonstration of the prototype luggage bag for kids, Trunki? It was only a prototype! Why would anyone want to start a business after seeing that? Whether it’s because they shy away from becoming the monster that Theo appeared or for fear of one day being at his kind’s mercy; being an entrepreneur looks painful.

The Apprentice: Lord Sugar. Most of the contestants. See next lesson.


Successful businesspeople are only in it for themselves

DD: The dragons only invest in something they can make money from. This seems to be the only indicator of a good business. Of course, many entrepreneurs don’t start businesses because they want to be rich.

TA: The ‘contestants’ do everything they can to a) win the week’s task and b) not to get fired. This includes hard-selling, lying, back-stabbing, interrupting each other, degrading other people and shamelessly self-promoting themselves on national television. They do not care who gets fired, so long as it’s not them.


Business is only about making money

DD: Who cares if it’s improving the lives of millions of people? What do the numbers look like?

TA: Irrespective of what happened in the task, it’s the bottom line that determines the winner – a team can lose even if their percentage profit is higher, they’ve been more ethical, there’s more longevity in the business and because the other team managed to get someone so drunk, they spent £5000 on a shabby-chic dressing table when they were meant to making cup cakes.

Sure, they’re business shows but actually, most businesses are set up because of a passion, an exciting opportunity or a way of helping or providing for people – not just for the money! Even if there are businesses out there set up purely for financial gain, this isn’t how we should be portraying the situation to children.


You need money to start a business

DD: This is no real fault of DD – they have a show to make and, therefore, need to deal with start-ups that need capital investment. But, of course, very rarely do we see the dragons emphasise that a particular business needs zero seed funding. I’d like to see a new rule – that contestants can ask for a dragon to sit on their board in return for equity – this would open up a whole new range of business models who don’t need to ask for funds and make a business seem far more accessible to people.


Businesspeople’s default disposition is furious

DD: Evan Davis’ commentary: “Peter Jones is furious.” Seemingly at every opportunity.

TA: Lord Sugar: “I’m bladdy furious”


There are many more but these are a good start. If you have any more, get in touch!


If you’re looking for good ways to help your child be more enterprising, check out our top tips here.