What we can Learn From Single Socks

How many single socks do you have at home? Have you been hanging onto them for months or even years, simply because you’re an optimist and you believe you’ll find their mates one day?

Do you suspect that when you’re asleep at night there’s some sort of sock party happening where they have a little too much to drink and can’t find their way home? Or that socks are being used by extraterrestrials as flying saucer fuel?

I answer ‘yes’ to most of the above, and more. I have two drawers full of nothing but single socks… yes there’s a slight laziness issue but I also tear my hair out trying to find pairs, and I have a whole collection of known single socks without known associates.

I thought I’d attempt to present some ways in which we can rid ourselves of this single sock frustration whilst also drawing out some parallel lessons for the creation of sustainable communities and cities [I know it’s a long bow to draw but keep an open mind…];

Here are my top 6;

  1. Measure twice and cut once; if I took a little more time in pairing my socks before I chucked them all in the drawer, I’d cut down on the singles and therefore the wastage. The short-cut always costs me time. For sustainable design; great outcomes DO take more time and effort up front, but there’s plenty of evidence to prove that greater upfront effort leads to a lower total cost… we’re bringing the value-add forward;
  2. Design for Maintainability; when we get into a sales frenzy and stock up on lots of socks we’re creating a downstream single sock nightmare – the more variation in sock types, the more chance of singles. For sustainable design; we need to be designing backwards from the desired long term outcome. ‘What is the optimum comfort and maintenance scenario, and how do we design to enable that?’
  3. Design for Redundancy; building on the above tip, the less variation in sock design, the less chance of creating singles [refer to the formula at the end of the post]. For sustainable design; optimise the basics first – if you can keep things simple and use off-the-shelf-products, do it. There is always a time for fancy socks, just not every day.
  4. Design for Adaptability; Jerry Seinfeld’s theory is that socks are larvae for coat hangers, so single socks are just those that haven’t metamorphosed during the night. For sustainable design; plan for adaptation – things change and evolve, and what works now won’t always be the right solution… allow the change to happen;
  5. Our Decisions Last Forever; single socks cannot be thrown away. Ever. Even if you put one in the bin, the next morning it will be back in your drawer. It haunts us. For sustainable design; our design decisions have long term consequences, and we and our descendents have to live with them… and with single socks. Have fun and enjoy your work, but remember the responsibility we carry;
  6. Dobby Took It; if you know Harry Potter, you’ll know that Dobby likes single socks. For sustainable design; sometimes it doesn’t matter how clever we are, occasionally there is the ‘Dobby factor’ where human or animal gets involved and doesn’t behave in accordance with our design or prediction. We can’t possibly predict everything we humans might do, but spending more time trying to anticipate Dobby is going to make our designs more robust.

And the magic no-more-single-socks formula?

N + 1, where ‘N’ equals the number of sock designs/types.

Even in pitch dark, if you follow this formula you’re guaranteed to get a pair. For example, if you have 3 x sock types, you need to pull out only 4 socks to guarantee a pair. 4 sock types, pull out 5 socks. If you’re like me it won’t matter how many darn socks you pull out, and you should refer to tip no. 3 above.

Happy sock hunting.

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