Deep and simple - the wisdom of Mr. Rogers

Sometimes you read something so powerful that you have to stop everything you are doing, no matter how important, and get your revelation out before it fades into the business of the day. Benjamin Wagner (@mtvitamin) wrote just such an article, about things he learned about Mr. Rogers as he made the documentary Mr. Rogers & Me. I’m not going to recap the piece here, so go read it now and then come back.

I really, really respect this man (Mr. Rogers). He was a staple in my house growing up (I’ll admit to a few fake sick days in early elementary school so I could watch Mr. Rogers, Sesame Street and The Electric Company). But I never knew that much about him. Something that resonated deeply with me was what he said to Benjamin after hearing about his life and particularly his parents’ divorce:

“I feel so strongly that deep and simple is far more essential than shallow and complex.”

All of my career, I’ve struggled with how to describe how I try to approach understanding something, what has always made me question the “best of class” research approaches that most marketers request and researchers recommend when faced with a business challenge. I’ve now found it.

What does it mean, “deep and simple.” Let’s start by juxtaposing it with “shallow and complex.” So often, we seek to understand something by reading what “experts” have written. Or asking people what they think or feel. Or monitoring what people are saying in social media or blogs. All logical. But all shallow. The problem is that we as humans are horrible at explaining why we do things. What we explain is simply our rationalization of our behavior that enables us to sleep at night. That fits with how we’ve been shaped by the culture in which we’ve grown up. But it provides an easy answer, although it becomes very complex when we start trying to tie it all together. There are contradictions. We take slight correlations and blow them out of proportion. We highlight small differences and make them meaningful. Most importantly, what if the initial assumptions the “experts” made were wrong?

“Deep and simple” to me means trying to get at what really matters. Immersing yourself in the world you are trying to understand and watching without judgement. Mostly listening rather than talking or asking the questions you thought to ask. Finding that inner beauty and meaning that every single person has. And that makes the rest simple. Knowing those core truths puts everything else in perspective, helps you make meaning of all the facts, figures and conversations. 

Why did the universe wait this long for me to finally understand what I’m good at? What’s really meaningful to me? Or that I’m completely full of crap about? I don’t know, and I don’t care. Today, I know what I stand for and will not compromise.