Why Steve Jobs Was Wrong about Consulting

Steve Jobs was famous for panning the consulting industry. He wasn't always right. There are lots of consultants that provide value to their clients.

Steve Jobs famously talked about consultants not being worth very much.

There is an old video of Steve Jobs explaining why consulting is not exactly evil, but in his opinion not worth very much. (You can enter Mr. Peabody's WABAC Machine and check out the video here.)

The issue of having enough skin in the game.

Jobs’s critique was couched as advice to consultants. By spending our time swooping in and out of client engagements, we have no skin in the game and don’t have the opportunity to develop real expertise or “scar tissue,” as he puts it; we don’t have to live with our decisions.

There are a lot of consulting companies out there and a lot of different methodologies. I won’t try to absolve the entire profession. But there are a lot of very good consulting organizations that do offer real value to their clients.

Consultants need to understand what truly works on the ground to solve client problems.

At Doculabs, we hire seasoned folks: people who’ve gotten their hands dirty doing the real work of defining strategies, setting up programs, and delivering services to an organization—and have done it for years. We believe it’s important to understand what works on the ground, so we’ve built that into our DNA through our staffing model.

We’ve also worked with many of our clients over a period of years—as they go from planning and strategy, through implementation, then running and maintain programs.

We aren’t always engaged officially with a contract. But we see every project we work on as our own project, and we frequently check in with people at our client organizations to see how things are going and offer advice on how others have been successful when facing similar obstacles.

Helping clients even when they don't get the funding they need.

Because we feel a real ownership for the projects that we work on, I would contend that we do develop some of that “scar tissue.” Clients don’t always get the funding or executive support that they hope for. In those situations, we’ve often helped our clients adapt the work we did so that their objectives can still be achieved with limited resources.

Doculabs has always remained laser focused on content management and services.

Jobs also complains that consultants learn a little about a lot, but they don’t learn a lot about anything in particular. That’s potentially true about generalists.

But at Doculabs, our focus has always been on how organizations can improve their business by better managing their content. Over the years, the terms have shifted; what was once “Document Management” became “Content Management,” which morphed into “Enterprise Content Management” and then to “Digital Transformation” or “Content Services.” But we’ve remained focused on the risk and value associated with how an organization manages the content that’s most important to its operations.

Both sides of the fence: working within the organization and as a consultant.

There’s a huge value to working on a program within an organization and helping something grow over a period of years. A lot of people begin their careers on the consulting side, then move into the industry that they’ve served to put down roots.

Conversely, it goes the other way, too: Plenty of people begin in a corporate environment, then—sometimes as a result of headcount reductions—seek to parlay the skills and expertise they’ve acquired by moving into consulting.

I think it’s tricky to say that one way of working is more valuable than another. Many folks who are working on a program internally are stalled by organizational politics, funding issues, and a host of other issues. Suffice it to say there’s plenty of frustration to be had on both sides of the fence.

The industry needs good people working on the ground inside organizations, attempting to move their program forward. At the same time, the industry also needs good consultants who will act as trusted advisors to help them overcome issues that can’t be overcome internally.

At Doculabs, our goal has always been to develop partnerships with firms and to be that trusted advisor. That’s what we’ve been doing for the past 25 years, and that’s what we plan on doing for the next 25 years.

The Doculabs approach to consulting.

But don’t take my word for it.

Read a related blog, How to Succeed in Consulting: It's All About the Client Love


Rich Medina
Lane Severson
I’m a Practice Leader, managing relationships with Doculabs’ West Coast clients to improve information management and security.