The Simple Depth of Mr. Rogers

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award-winning performanceI was flipping through the TV channels last night, trying desperately to avoid any Kardashian-related programming, when I came upon a breath of fresh air. It was a PBS biography of everybody’s favorite neighbor, Fred Rogers, who left us in 2003. I only managed to catch a few minutes of this show, but in it I heard a quotation from Mr. Rogers that I hadn’t heard before:

It is my firm belief that deep and simple is far more essential than shallow and complex.

What an amazingly deep (yet simple) statement that is. And who better to personify it? Fred Rogers: deep and simple. The Kardashians: shallow and complex. Which would you rather be? Which would you rather your children be?

In thinking about Mr. Rogers, I was taken back to 1996, when I was on the board of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. We were at our board meeting at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square, trying to decide who to give the following year’s Lifetime Achievement Emmy Award to. I wish I could say that it was my idea to nominate Fred Rogers. It wasn’t—but I was the deciding vote.

The following year Fred Rogers received the Lifetime Achievement Award and gave a speech I’ll never forget. It was beautifully eloquent in both its depth and its simplicity. It was a simple reminder that none of us are in this alone, that there are important people in our lives who helped us get to where we are. I’d like you to take three minutes and watch his acceptance speech here.

Life, business, leadership—they all seem very complex from time to time, don’t they? They’re really not, though. Like most things, success in these areas comes down to just a few, simple (but deep) basics. Things like:

  • the world will reflect back to you whatever you put into it
  • if you want to get more, you have to give more—and the giving comes first
  • treat everybody decently

It only seems more complex than this because we let ourselves get caught up in the circus (a circus that, to a large extent, we’ve both created and bought a front-row ticket to). We marvel at the acrobats and we laugh at the clowns (see above: the Kardashians)—and we think it’s real life.

It’s not.

Real life is both simple and deep. And none of us are in it alone.

In his acceptance speech, Fred Rogers asked the audience to take ten seconds to remember the people who helped them get to where they are now. I’d like you to do the same. And, if you’re so inclined, please share who these people are and what they taught you in the comment section below, so that those that helped you can help others as well.

It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.


About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
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  • Brian Walter says:

    Deep and simple. That would be a great title of a book! I’d buy it.

  • Loved your post, Bill. Most often, the simplest truths are most profound. Fred Rogers is one of the gems of the television industry–and in the world. He believed and often shared that appreciation is a holy thing. How moving that he asked everyone in the audience when he received his Lifetime Achievement Emmy to take 10 seconds to appreciate those who supported them to get to where they are. I agree with him that none of us gets to where we are without the investment of others. Thanks for the beautiful reminder of that.

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