Tools & Resources
Drawerful of Solutions
Techniques to tame out-of-control situations with socks
I created a level-one mistake-proof sock drawer. I grew up spending hours hunting through giant boxes full of socks that had no mates. I would finally give up and just find two of a similar color.
Now that I am all grown up, I find a black pair of socks I like and a white pair of socks I like. I then buy 20 pairs of each. When doing laundry, all socks go back into my drawer without the need to mate. When I need socks, I pull out two white socks or two black socks, and they are automatically mated.
Also, when one sock gets a hole in it or gets lost, I don’t need to throw away the other sock. It also makes the elastic last longer because I don’t need to mate socks by rolling the elastic of one over the other one, stretching it out. Now, if I could just get them to wash themselves.
—Robert Bills, quality engineer, John Deere, Iowa
When teaching statistics in a lean Six Sigma course, I use a sock drawer example to explain permutations. “If a drawer contains six black, six gray and six blue individual socks, and I don’t want to turn on the light and wake my wife, what is the least number I need to pull to ensure a pair of matched socks?” Four. “What is the least number I need to pull to ensure a pair of matched black socks?” Fourteen.
Students suggested pairing socks when placing them in the drawer to reduce the number of pulls to find a pair of black socks to seven. Others suggested organizing the drawer with specific colors in specific locations. However, that relies on others not going in and messing with my drawer. What I chose to do was only buy black socks of a specific style, which I buy by the dozen.
Because the socks are all the same, there is no need to pair them, eliminating a nonvalue-added activity. Furthermore, if any sock is lost in the wash, it doesn’t result in orphaned socks (part interchangeability). Thus, I now only need to pull two socks to obtain a pair.
—Robert Lloyd, president, Lloyd Consulting Group Inc., Boynton Beach, FL