Five Start Up Lessons I Learned From Mr. Rogers
Last week my 3-year-old daughter, Reese, discovered the classic PBS show Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. Happiness surged through my heart as she sat entranced by the same show that taught a generation — my generation — how to live a life filled with kindness and curiosity.
Over the years Reese has shown a great affinity for live action TV shows and films. Witnessing her favorite characters from Daniel Tiger (a Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood spinoff series PBS launched in 2012) come to life in the land of make-believe was a profound moment.
Since her discovery, Mr. Rogers has been at the top of the 5 am to 6 am Netflix block — a parenting strategy deployed as an attempt to finish my morning routines. Her current favorite episode is the Flying Karamazov Brothers and I have to admit, those guys are impressive jugglers with epic facial hair!
Catching several episodes for the first time in recent memory, I was pleasantly surprised at the lasting power of the 40+-year-old programming. The lessons hammer down on emotional intelligence, empathy, and creativity. There is an indisputable connection to the show, no matter your age.
In the context of Design Pickle’s startup journey, I asked myself: What could Mr. Rogers teach me now as an adult and as an entrepreneur? It turns out quite a lot!
So neighbor, change into your most comfortable cardigan sweater and let’s explore together…
1. Lead with your honest self
There was no on-camera Mr. Rogers and off-camera Mr. Rogers. The kind and gentleman we saw on screen was the same person writing, producing and composing behind the scenes.
As leaders, we start our businesses with a deep and genuine passion to solve a problem. We find a solution and build a system to deliver that solution to others. Maintaining the connection to who we are as individuals and leading with our genuine self is what separates good leaders from great leaders.
Early in his career, Mr. Rogers had to fight for what he believed in. In 1969 he testified before the United States Senate going toe to toe with grizzly congressmen to defend the investment in public television.
He delivered his argument with his signature calm and comforting tone, the same tone he used to teach kids about toothpaste and farm trucks. Mr. Rogers never lost sight of his genuine self.
“One of the greatest gifts you can give anybody is the gift of your honest self.” — Mr. Rogers
2. Wear many hats
Initially, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood had a production budget of $30 an episode. $30! I had lunch last week and the bill was $50.
To say the show started out as a bootstrapped startup would be an understatement. Despite the lack of capital, Mr. Rogers did what any great startup founder would do: he wore a lot of hats to make it happen.
In addition to acting, Mr. Rogers held the role of:
- Voice talent
The chef must know how to clean the dishes.
Without a sound understanding of every aspect of our business and the willingness to do anything to make it a success, culture suffers. I’m not suggesting you forever wear all the hats, but a well rounded knowledge of your entire business and processes give you the most solid leadership foundation possible.
3. Always be curious
Curiosity is actually made up of two parts:
1. Asking great questions
2. Listening to the answers
Mr. Rogers was a master of both.
No topic was off limits and the fact he explored so many facets of life traditionally categorized as mundane, made his programmatic formula a lasting success. Great questions are inspired by a genuine thirst for knowledge.
Curiosity expands our perceptions and beliefs of the world, which in turn allows us to accomplish more. Asking questions open the door for answers that expand who we are. Mr. Rogers never stopped asking great questions and took the time to listen to every answer.
4. Take your time
There was nothing rushed about Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. Infamously he started every episode with a song and an outfit change. The process was smooth, intentional and at his own pace. When Mr. Rogers was with someone, there was endless patience with them to share, teach or explain their slice of life.
Business culture and more specifically startup culture has put a foot on our necks to grow, rush, grow, scale, SCALE, GO GO GO! In turn, we all suffer. We suffer as leaders, our families suffer, our clients suffer, our employees suffer and in the end, our customers suffer.
When we take our time to do things right, void of external pressures, we find a path that is more sustainable and valuable to everyone involved in the business process.
5. Know your mission
Before “mission statement” was on the business vernacular radar, Mr. Rogers was clear on his purpose. Written down and shared with his teams, their goals were to encourage the following traits in family’s worldwide:
- Appreciation of diversity
- Tolerance for waiting
Why are you in business? What outcome are you wanting to create for your life and the lives of your customers? Clarity around this, whether it’s a mission statement, a purpose statement or a vision in your mind, is the key to obtaining it.
Our mission creates the decision filters to guide our businesses and lives. With it, our yes means yes, and our no means no. We can act quickly and decisively. Without it, we are doomed to wander this earth reacting to the agenda of those around us.
What is your mission right now? How does it stack up against Mr. Rogers? Because he had a clear mission he was able to build a legacy that ultimately will live on forever.
Mr. Rogers, thank you. 28 years later I find myself still learning from your incredible contribution to this world. I’ll never forget your famous words, “I like you just the way you are”
“I like you just the way you are.” — Mr. Rogers
You most certainly are missed.