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The Amazing Life Of Socks

May 9, 2016

Riddle: Your drawer has six white socks and eight black socks. Without looking, how many socks would you have to pull out to guarantee you have a matching set? 

Socks are kind of boring. Rightly so, in my opinion. The only time socks were sexy was when Tom Cruise was doing that “Old Time Rock and Roll” lip sync in Ricky Business. Socks can look dorky, of course. Pairing socks with sandles? Never a good look. 

But, most of the time socks are simply boring. When we opened our Louisville call center, the guy who was going to be in charge of it gave everyone on the project team socks. He spent a lot of time picking them out. He gave me socks that had s’mores on them, because he knows I enjoy camping. I dig them out whenever I’m going to Louisville. They are fun, but in the same way that wearing a party hat on your birthday is fun. 

Mostly, though, socks are just boring. 

A few years ago I had a drawer full of “dress” socks. They had muted patterns. They were conservative and for the most part they were boring. The problem was that matching them up was a pain. Literally every sock had exactly one matching sock. I decided to simplify my life, starting with my sock drawer. I bought a couple of packages of those “gold toe” black socks and ditched all my existing socks. My plan was simple. No more matching up my socks. Simply dump all the black socks into a drawer and grab a couple in the morning. 

I get up before my lovely wife and in order to let her sleep undisturbed, I typically, don’t turn on any lights until I get into the bathroom. This new sock strategy was going to be very helpful. Unfortunately, there was a problem. After a few washings, this is what I ended up with. 

Those are all “black” socks. Unfortunately, black is apparently not an exact color. So, I’m back to sorting my socks. Now, instead of looking for the ones with a particular pattern, I’m comparing Shades of Gray. 

I’ve managed people for many years. Occasionally, I’ve hired very specialized individuals. For example, when running a startup company full of programmers, I had to hire an office manager. I only needed one, so his job description was specific to him. But, often I’ve had to fill multiple positions with the same description. 

WANTED: Programmer. Must be able to write code. Interpersonal skills considered a plus. 

It’s easy to assume that since the job description is the same, that I can manage the people the same. It’s a big temptation. All I have to do is create a standard template for the review and fill in the blanks, right?


Obviously, no two people are alike. I have twin boys. They are nothing alike. But, shouldn’t workers be alike? No. Some employees are going to be highly motivated but untrained. They need their enthusiasm directed. Some employees are highly motivated and highly trained. Those people need to understand the objective, and then they need you to get out of their way. Some employees are highly skilled, but unmotivated. Those employees need some help rediscovering their passion. And some employees are going to be unmotivated and unskilled. Those are people that you should get rid of so you have time to focus on the others. Different colors of “black” socks. 

The point is that no two employees can be managed the same way. That may sound like more work than simply creating a template and managing to the norm. It is. It’s a lot harder and takes a ton more work. But, what were you thinking a manager’s role was? 

In my sock drawer, the diversity is a problem. It requires me to look at each individual sock and decide where it best fits. In your team, that diversity is your strength. You can’t simply treat employees as interchangeable socks. And you shouldn’t. 

Riddle Answer: Three. Even if your first pick was white and your second pick was black, the third sock would match one or the other.

But then, people aren’t socks. 

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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(c) 2016 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

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