Everything I Know About Consulting I Learned from The Ghostbusters

Being a consultant can be challenging, and although there have been many books and articles written on the subject of how to be a good consultant (or even how to be a BAD one), much of what we learn about consulting comes from hands-on experience and trial-and-error. Fortunately, in the 1980’s there was another body of work produced on the subject of consulting that has been particularly useful for me. It was a film called “The Ghostbusters”*, and for me, it was an enlightening look at several areas of consulting that we’ve all had to deal with from time to time. Here are some of the subjects that this ground-breaking piece of work helped to make clear for me:

Opportunities – Sometimes a closed door can be an opportunity. While Dr. Spengler and Dr. Stantz were worried about their reputations after being fired from the University, Dr. Venkman saw it as an opportunity to follow a career path that they had long been wanting to pursue - ghost busting. Sometimes as a consultant, we may lose a contract, perhaps even one with a long-standing client. We have to learn when to see these moments as a chance to expand our skills and experiences with new clients, or maybe even a new type of business.

Fears – In the hallway of the Sedgewick Hotel, Dr. Venkman turns a corner and comes face-to-face with a green blob of a monster. This was only the second ghost he had ever seen, but this one looked particularly scary. However, he controlled his fear and immediately radioed for help. Many times we’ll be faced with new and unknown technical or business challenges. It’s important to learn not to panic, but to think through the situation rationally. It’s also important to know when to ask for help, which could mean hiring additional consultants for your project team, or subcontracting to another consultant.

Clients – When Dr. Venkman shows up at Dana Barrett’s apartment for their first date, he discovers that in fact she’s no longer the person he originally met. She’s now possessed by a demon, and surprisingly now has an entirely different disposition towards him. Over time, our clients may appear to change their mind or their demeanor in a way that seems completely different from when you first met them at the start of the project. They may have new needs, or new opinions about the project plan you originally set in motion. As consultants we have to be able to quickly change gears, and perhaps use different skills and approaches to address the new business requirements, just as Dr. Venkman immediately saw the need to try to exorcise the demon out of Dana. There may not even be time or a need to discuss how or why this change has suddenly occurred, but when it does, many times we have to make the best of it.

Relevance – Dr. Venkman helps land a key citywide consulting contract from the Mayor by helping to show him how their proposed solution can benefit his Office – “…you can save the lives of millions of registered voters…” Similarly, our clients also need us to show them the business value of our solutions and expertise, and the positive impact on their bottom line. Many times we may be focused on the elegance of our technical approach, or perhaps even on the cost-saving measures we’ve implemented to control the project budget. But at the end of the day our clients need assurance that the project’s success will solve the pain points from which the project was conceived in the first place.

Marketing – After Ray’s bad response to a demonic line of questioning (consultants: think carefully about your responses during an interview!) almost ends in a fatal mishap, Winston Zeddemore quickly tells Ray that “when someone asks you if you’re a god, you say YES!” It’s important for us as consultants to let our potential customers know our skills and talents, and to be able to market ourselves as experts in our field. We need to have confidence in our abilities, because our clients want a confident consultant tackling their challenging business needs.

Although our industries tend to be much more challenging than the world-ending paranormal elimination market that Dr. Venkman and his colleagues found themselves in, I think we can all still see value in the consulting techniques they used to be successful. If we can master these areas of our business, then ultimately when the decision-making staff of our client companies start thinking about which consultant to hire, they will without question have to ask themselves… “Who You Gonna Call?” (you knew it was coming) : )


*Columbia Pictures, 1984; Ivan Reitman

One Response so far.

  1. Sheik Yerbouti says:


    That's the answer, right?