Simple Solutions and Black Socks
I’ve come to deeply resent the speakers, consultants, and politicians that advocate simple solutions for complex problems. They almost always include a “duh” moment in their presentation, often mocking the numerous other simple solutions that failed to solve the complex problem without a hint of irony.
While sorting my socks today, I was struck by how often simple solutions fail.
I don’t know anyone who enjoys sorting socks, but I thought I’d beaten the problem with a simple system.
The problem: it takes a long time to sort the gray socks from the red socks from the patterned socks from the etc.
The solution: buy socks that are uniform in size, design, and color.
In other words: buy black socks. I bought nine pairs of black socks so that I’d be covered for an entire week with a grace period. For weeks after the sorting nightmare was solved because all of the socks were uniform and did not require sorting.
However, over time, my socks disappeared, and I had to buy new ones.
Still, I had a promising system and I wasn’t going to turn my back on it. I returned to the same store, found the black socks section, and bought replacements. Unfortunately, when I got home, I discovered that I’d bought slightly larger socks than the ones I had before — and I hadn’t realized it, but the older socks had begun to fade. It would have been a waste to toss the slightly faded socks at this point, so I just sorted my socks into two piles based on their color.
Sadly, over time, more socks disappeared.
When I went to the store to buy a second round of replacements, I returned home to discover that I’d bought a slightly different design.
I now had three groups of black socks that were variously faded, sized, and designed.
Today, sorting socks is a nightmare because they all look similar, but are actually not identical at all. I have to work harder to sort my similar socks than I did before the simplification started. Oh for the days of separating green socks from blue! If only I’d bought a variety of socks and accepted their complexity!
My simple solution has failed and now I need a new one.
If only there were a way to convince my wonderful wife to sort my socks…