Why Steve Jobs Didn’t Think Highly Of Consultants

Consultants can be some of the highest-paid professionals around, but one of the most iconic business leaders of modern history wasn’t a fan of their work.

Steve Jobs didn’t think particularly highly of consultants. He was once giving a lecture in MIT, and he asked the audience where they’d worked in the past. “How many of you are from manufacturing companies,” he asked, and a section of the crowd raised their hands. “Oh excellent,” he remarked. “How many of you are from consulting,” he then asked, and some people raised their hands.

“Oh that’s bad,” Jobs said, as the audience laughed. “You should do something!” he admonished the consultants.

Jobs then explained why he thought consulting was ‘bad’. “I don’t think there’s anything inherently evil in consulting,” Jobs said. “(But) I think that without owning something over an extended period of time, like a few years, where one has a chance to take responsibility for one’s recommendations, where one has to see one’s recommendations through all action stages, and accumulate scar tissue for the mistakes and pick oneself up off the ground and dust oneself off, one learns a fraction of what one can coming in and making recommendations and not owning the results. Not owning the implementation, I think, is a fraction of the value and a fraction of the opportunity to learn and get better,” he said.

Jobs was saying that consultants usually parachute into companies, give their recommendations and leave. They usually don’t see their recommendations through to fruition. They don’t get to partake in the celebrations when their ideas succeed, nor do they get to learn from their failures. As such, their learning at work is far less than what one might learn while working at the company and actually building something.

“And so consultants do get a broad cut at companies, but it’s very thin,” Jobs continued. “It’s like a picture of a — I’m a vegetarian, so I won’t use steak — but it’s like a picture of a banana. You might get a very accurate picture, but it’s only two dimensional. And without the experience of actually doing it, you never get three dimensional. So you might have a lot of pictures on your walls, you can show it off to your friends, you can say, look, I’ve worked in bananas, I’ve worked in peaches, I’ve worked in grapes, but you never really taste it. And I think that’s what I think,” he said, as the crowd whooped and cheered.

“You’re also a variable expense in hard times,” Jobs concluded.