Why don’t consultants do anything?

Before you consultants get on the phone to berate me let me explain!  I have at various times been a consultant, an advertising planner and a design strategist and this has been both fun and demanding.  But in these types of companies you are a hired hand.  All the ideas, products, ads and strategies that people hatch in these service businesses belong to their clients.   No-one seems to complain and this works well enough.  You do get the odd grumble about consultants swanning in to a business they know nothing about, making pronouncements and swanning off again.  This is balanced by the value they add through their external perspective and objectivity.   But what if there were another way? My work here at NESTA on open innovation has got me thinking about this.  The defining concept of open innovation is that the person that has the ideas keeps the rights to them.  The client then buys/rents/shares the IP and the inventor/creative becomes less of a jobbing tradesman and more of a business partner.  What would happen if we transferred this principle to consultancies?  Could management consultants deliver and run projects? Could designers and architects get much further than the drawing board? Could innovation consultants actually make new stuff?  It would be great to hear your views on this.  I’m calling it Consultancy 2.0. 


  1. Hello David
    Interesting reflections. I think there is real space for a rethinking of consultancy. I work as a consultant with a small number of organisations over the long-term – and find my work moving closer and closer to that of a partner across projects, very much supporting new and ongoing work in the organisations, whilst being able to bring in ideas and innovation from outside the organisations. Four key things have enabled that:
    1) The business model.
    I’ve been trying to approximate Dave Pollards idea of ‘Natural Enterprise’ as much as possible:
    I can’t see Consultancy 2.0 easily working in monolithic profit-only-driven consultancies…
    2) Creative Commons
    Straight IP law doesn’t have the nuances we need. A creative commons approach may well do.
    3) Relationships
    I can only work as a partner rather than a jobbing tradesman when there are strong informal and formal relationships of trust.
    4) Shared vision
    I work in the not-for-profit sector, and only with organisations whose vision I can share. Setting out clear shared visions makes it clear that I’m not out to be a future competitor to the organisations I’m working with.
    For me, #4 is very important… so I’m not sure what that does for private sector Consultancy 2.0… but where there is vision other than $$, perhaps Consultancy 2.0 has a long way to go….

  2. I agree with Tim. Ultimately, I find that, if consultancy is to offer any sort of job satisfaction, you need to see projects through to their implementation and work on initiatives you believe in. I am increasingly seeking to create vehicles for long term collaboration rather than short term assignments.

  3. Hi, Much of what I do is about pointing people in directions and opening doors to people and organisations that they had not thought of working with. I cannot yet see how I could claim ownership of this type of advice as, at that stage, no product or project has been created, even thoguh new partnerships are being created. Also, I see my fee as payment for this advice and working in the not for profit sector, the margins are often very tight.

  4. Surely you want a consultant when you a) have the short term need for a skill you do not posses or need in the long term; or b) you need someone who is not totally imbued with the identity and values of your organisation that you need to offer you an alternative illumination or c) as a means of circumventing employment or tax or other contractual obligations/regulations.
    If you have longer term needs they either are employees or co-owners.

  5. Hi thanks for all the comments so far – here are a few responses:
    @Claire – I’m not certain it would be in all cases. In general though, I am imagining more job satisfaction, repeat business and profit for consultants and more help for their clients in implementing recommendations.
    @Tim I’m glad this had struck a chord. Yes I agree there are significant IP hurdles and its good to hear that a shared vision helps. Intesting point about become a competitor to your client – I had envisaged becoming a permanenet supplier instead. Thanks for the links.
    @Isabel Yes I can see Consultancy 2.0 is not an obvious model for your situation without turning into an employment agency! Head hunters have various remuneration arrangements but they are clearly not IP-driven.
    @Martin I agree these are the classic uses for a consultant although in Consultancy 2.0 as well as employees or co-owners could they also be contracted suppliers or business pertners with some IP or system the client needs?

  6. I like your idea of consultancy 2.0, but surely it depends on the kind of consultancy. As a content-developer I am free to design and write as I feel suits the client with no reason to waive my moral rights to the work. I also believe that some consultants do swan in and do no ‘real work’. And why should they, if they are being paid to deliver someone else’s idea? Usually peanuts money at that.

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