Mismatched Socks

My wife Suzanne and I were in Orlando a couple of years ago enjoying a “dinner and a movie” date when we stumbled into this store that sold mismatched socks in groups of three. The Little Miss Matched store was packed with moms and daughters. Everyone was full of smiles and bags of socks were flying out of the store. Suzanne knew she had found just the right gift to bring back to her daughter Isabella. I just marveled at the crowd and tried to stay out of the way.

But those mismatched socks refused to leave me alone. Two years later, I was reading an article by Luke Williams, a fellow at Frog Design and adjunct professor at NYU, and there were those mismatched socks again. Little Miss Matched, as it turns out, is a great example of a disruptive idea that had gone to market. Disruptive ideas are ones that take an industry cliche–something everyone competing in the industry takes for granted and turns it on its head to create a new business model or niche market. In this case the cliche was that socks could only be sold in matched pairs and the niche was young pre-teen girls who wanted to express their individuality through their mismatched hosiery. Don’t laugh: Little Miss Matched has eleven stores throughout the nation and a big contract with Macy’s Department Stores.

Higher education has many industry cliches. Among them is the assumption that students are most defined by their major. Every student has to have one (even if it is general studies). Most students identify themselves by their major and it is assumed that mastery of the skills and concepts that come with a major largely define the student’s aspirations and post-graduation career. But what if a student’s defining experience didn’t come from the body of knowledge in their major? What if it came instead from the development of an entrepreneurial mindset nurtured by a set of hands-on experiences shared by students from diverse backgrounds, interests and majors from around the university?

This is the disruptive idea behind our Global Entrepreneurship Experience (GEE). Our GEE students are mismatched socks. We hope that by pairing twenty freshmen from different majors, with different skills and different ways of looking at the world, we can foster creativity and encourage disruptive ideas. By exposing the GEE students to the new business creation process over four years, we hope they will bring some of these disruptive ideas to market. And unlike most programs that hope to get students good jobs, the GEE hopes to create young entrepreneurs: employers who can help us diversify the Nevada economy.

October 10 to 14 is entrepreneurship week in the College of Business: a time when we celebrate the innovative spirit and encourage all students to develop their entrepreneurial skills. Even if you have no interest in starting your own business, the ability to form disruptive ideas, recognize market opportunities, communicate new value propositions and marshall the resources necessary to successfully launch new products or services are skills in high demand today. So participate in next week’s activities, be a part of the competitions and share the story of your victory with prospective employers. Good Luck.


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