Deep and Simple

Here’s a great thought from a great neighbor.


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For a while now, I’ve had a column topic in mind related to your neighbor and mine, Fred Rogers. I envisioned it might recall how the man in the signature cardigan and gym shoes was one of the first to give youngsters an inside look at how products, like crayons, rubber balls and construction paper, were made using simple terms and explanations. His show preceded others, such as How It’s Made, in addition to some of today’s more crass cable offerings that focus more on manufacturing drama than thoughtfully describing how goods are manufactured.

Although that column never gelled, I was recently reminded of it while watching a documentary produced by brothers Benjamin and Christofer Wagner about the soft-spoken Mr. Rogers. As it turns out, Benjamin was one of Mr. Rogers’ actual neighbors in Nantucket for a time.

When they met one afternoon, Mr. Rogers asked Benjamin about his job as an MTV television producer. After hearing his reply, Mr. Rogers offered this thought:

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

That sentence, which proved to be the seed for the documentary, continues to resonate with me. I appreciate the subtle, purposeful ambiguity that challenges us all to discover what it means in the context of our own life’s framework. For me, it reinforces the importance of being grounded in humility, striving to be modest while treating others with the respect they deserve.

This is not always easy to do. Perhaps that’s why the people I tend to gravitate to, and those I’ve come to admire the most, are humble beings. In fact, the shops that have most impressed me over the years tend to possess this virtue. Such companies in the business of machining parts demonstrate their humility in various ways.

These types of shops are upfront with their customers when a mistake has been made. They’re also proactive about alerting customers when a delivery might be delayed because some element of their process had failed. Openness and honesty ultimately builds trust.

These types of shops are willing to perform emergency machining work according to the customer’s needs, not the timing or priorities the shop would otherwise choose for itself. These actions serve as a foundation for long-term relationships.

These types of shops tend to have straightforward, yet carefully constructed mission statements through which their humility shines. Summarizing a company’s fundamental beliefs, values and aspirations in a couple clear sentences is essential to providing employees with the basic guidance they need to make the right decisions. That keeps everyone on the right track.

These types of shops have leaders who are confident, but not arrogant. Managers are keenly aware of customer and employee needs, and stay abreast of ongoing changes in the economy and their industry. This fosters a culture of continuous improvement.

Ultimately, these types of shops have heeded Mr. Roger’s neighborly advice. We’d be better off if more of us did that.