The Wrong Problem

I was reading about the Prohibition Era the other day. The constitutional amendment that authorized it was passed very quickly – after  it passed the Senate,  36 of the 48 states ratified it within a year.  It was seen as the obvious answer to a nation-wide problem of alcohol consumption that robbed men of their senses, women of a stable home life, and the nation of a sober and productive workforce.  But it was in affect for just 13 years.  It was sporadically enforced when enforced at all.  And it was repealed in less time than it took to originally pass it.  In short, as social policy, it failed miserably.  Why?

In part because it tried to solve the wrong problem.  The real problem was not alcohol.  It  was long hours and exhausting working conditions that left no time for leisure, the squalid, unhealthy living conditions of most residences, and the total absence of legislative controls that allowed saloons – run by the breweries – to exist on every block of every street.  Banning alcohol was the easy answer to social conditions that remained un-addressed until the early 20th century.

So what has this to do with small business?   It is misdiagnosing the problems that the business faces.  What may appear to be a sales problem could really be a product portfolio that doesn’t quite meet a market need.  Or what might appear to be a product portfolio problem is really a failure to clearly and consistently communicate the portfolio’s benefits.  Or what might appear to be a problem of an inherently unprofitable business might simply be a manufacturing or service delivery process that can be made more streamlined and efficient.  Or it might be all of the above.

Now I don’t mean to say that small business problems are on a scale similar to the Prohibition Era.  Nor will it take 13 years to find that a solution.  Fortunately business problems are not that complicated.  But failure to address the root causes of business stagnation or decline will distract ownership from addressing those real problems that inhibit faster growth and greater operating efficiency.

So do you understand what your real business problems are?  Give us a call.  You might be surprised what you find out.



  1. I have been enjoying Martin Scorsese’s Prohibition era series Boarwalk Empire and now I know why. It’s the story of my business (minus the violence;-)

  2. Madeline H Lee says

    Linking Prohibition with misdirected business practices in both interesting and illuminating analogue. Your analysis on how to solve business problem is sound. Take the time to think is always a good idea.
    Look forward to reading more.

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