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Enhancing Organizational Performance

My Socks are Diverse

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In 1999, seventy-six percent of all the socks sold in the USA were made in the USA. Today that number is twenty-four percent. The last ten years has seen tremendous change within the sock industry here in the USA. Not too long ago Fort Payne, Alabama had more than 150 sock factories, producing a good percentage of the socks people in the USA put on their feet each morning.

Socks manufacturers have either outsourced their production to China, Pakistan, Honduras and other low cost countries or have pulled out of manufacturing all together. The US employees of those firms have had to find other employment. Two-thirds of the sock manufacturers in Fort Payne have shut their doors. On store shelves you would be very hard pressed to find any socks produced in the USA.

One of the first managers I had in my professional career gave me some advice about socks when I had just left school. I can’t recall how we got on the topic in the first place, but I remember the advice well. He said in order to save time pairing and folding your socks, once each year take all the socks you own and simply throw them out. Doesn’t matter what kind of condition they were in, or if a certain pair was your favorite, just throw them all away. Then go out and buy new socks, making sure that each pair you buy is absolutely identical to the other pairs you are purchasing to replace the socks you just threw away. (Given the very conservative nature of the business we were both employed by, the unstated assumption was that black socks would fit the bill very nicely.) Now when you do wash, you do not need to pair and fold your socks, just throw them all in a drawer and any two you pull out will match. Simple, easy, a real time saver. No thinking necessary.

This was advice I never followed. First off, I was just getting out of graduate school and could not afford to annually replace my entire collection of socks even if I wanted to. Second, I tend to hang onto things that still work and I have some socks that are older than some of the people I used to work with. Third, a sock is not a sock is not a sock. My socks are specialized. I have dress socks that I wear with suits, broken into winter and summer weights (who wants cold toes), socks that are more casual that I can wear with jeans,  socks that are for hiking, even a few pair that I would characterize as athletic socks. I have never felt comfortable with those low rise socks, the kind that is just below the ankle, they always feel like they are falling off. In my world, one sock size does not fit all, nor should it in order to maximize the potential of my socks for best function and to best meet my needs.

Yet other people I know follow that advice, for on the face of it, it sounds expeditious. How easy it would be if all the components of our wardrobe were completely interchangeable. You wake up in the morning and it simply would not matter which shirt, suit, tie, shoes, pants, socks, etc. you pulled on, they would all match and all be appropriate for that day’s activities. That would simplify our lives. It would also simplify what we look like and how we would be able to function. It would eliminate the diversity that brings uniqueness, pleasure and maximizes performance.

Occasionally I hear a pair-matching sock phobic complain, “Why could one sock not look like or perform like another?” It is a bit more work to match up socks after washing them and then to pick the appropriate pair to wear for the day’s activities. But you know, by customizing my sock choices to my needs I think I make more effective use of the socks I have. That manager who gave me the tip to eliminate all diversity in my socks was the head of HR. I can’t help but wonder if any of that philosophy rubbed off into other areas.    

© 2010 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.

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Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

April 18, 2010 at 7:23 am

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