It could also be the best damn memoir I’ve ever read.
I started reading Shoe Dog by Phil Knight during a three-day excursion to Puerto Rico.
My mind was full of dancing clubs, drinks on the beach, scuba in the sun, and girls on the run.
Instead, I was getting a first-rate business education with a dose of the real world from the founding father of Nike.
The billion-dollar company Nike. The company that sponsors all of the best athletes in professional sports.
Although he writes passively, like an average person. Although he speaks of himself as a shy guy. He is, without doubt, a titan. A business “tycoon,” which he tells us, comes from the Japanese word for Warlord.
Perhaps he is a business warlord. Defining and redefining the idea of an athletic shoe — rising to victory among giants of the industry.
The story of Nike is one of the most compelling I have ever read.
It only took a few flights en route to Puerto Rico for me to finish the book. In that short time, the lessons I learned will last a lifetime:
Take some time to figure things out. This is natural advice for a 20 something looking to make an impact. But it could be for anyone, of any age, at any time. Peter Drucker talks about the midlife transition or the shift in work after retirement. Anyone that is unsure of the path they must take should take some time to figure it out.
At the start of Nike (originally called Blue Ribbon), Knight was a Stanford MBA, that sold encyclopedias in Hawaii, that became an accountant, that also traveled the world. He soaked it all in. He sought inspiration from anyone and everything: Hundred-year-old statues in Thailand. The Temple of Athena Nike in Greece. The poverty of Asia. The musings of history’s most famed Generals. Not necessarily a fan of war, he still reveled in the complexity of combat. We need to be more like Knight in this regard, we need to constantly ask ourselves what we want in life, what we want to accomplish and what we want to be known for. Then we must be willing to pay the price.
But deep down I was searching for something else, something more. I had an aching sense that our time is short, shorter than we ever know, short as a morning run, and I wanted mine to be meaningful. And purposeful. And creative. And important. Above all… different. I wanted to leave a mark on the world. I wanted to win. – Phil Knight
Surround yourself with high-quality people. Knight did not go at it alone. Yes, he took the leap of faith on his own when he traveled to Japan and lied about his nonexistent company. But when things got underway, he had some dedicated helpers and really smart advisors. His people were the core of Nike culture and together they built it into the billion-dollar company it is today.
Knight routinely put other people in positions that would make or break the company. Even the name Nike came from his first full-time employee, while Knight was pushing another, more obscure company title (Dimension 6). Bill Bowerman, the legendary Oregon track coach, was his partner from the moment he received his first 12 pairs of samples. Having a legend in your corner can do wonders for gaining the trust of investment bankers. Additionally, Bowerman was a shoe technician that helped to craft some early innovations in the industry, giving Nike unique advantages as a newbie in the shoe game.
Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity. – George S. Patton
Aim for Victory. Do not pursue goals where you can settle for anything less than success. The beginnings of Nike were wrought with failure and unpredictability. They had enormous cash flow problems, barely making monthly payments despite a redoubling of annual sales year after year. As an accountant, who also employed talented accountants, Knight still consistently put Nike in perilous situations because of his goal of total victory. Growth over everything. Keep growing and growing and eventually, you won’t be ignored. You can’t be ignored. Although he lived at the edge of bankruptcy, he did not lose focus on what he wanted to achieve. Life is growth. You grow or you die.
You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word. It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory… without victory, there is no survival. – Winston Churchill
Don’t Ever Quit. A theme throughout the book was the Men of Oregon. Hardened people that made the trek West and lived to tell about it. People that not only survived, they also thrived in the harsh Northwest. Knight, as a Man of Oregon, considered himself a legacy of the original pioneers of the Oregon Trail. These people simply did not quit. He believed they were of a tougher breed and this idea drove him to endure failure. To keep working and working, regardless of setbacks that would have beset even the savviest entrepreneurs. Even in success, he never settled on being just successful, he strove to reach the next level. He strove to occupy the next market. He strove to be the first in China. And he never once looked back. The cowards never started and the weak died along the way. That leaves us, ladies and gentlemen. Us.
So that morning in 1962 I told myself: Let everyone else call your idea crazy… just keep going. Don’t stop. Don’t even think about stopping until you get there, and don’t give much though to where “there” is. Whatever comes, just don’t stop.
Bill Gates called Shoe Dog his favorite of 2016. It is surely going to be my favorite of 2018 and perhaps my most recommended resource moving forward.
Success in business cannot be guaranteed by anyone in any industry. But the principles of success can be seen many times over. Knight’s recount of how he built a billion-dollar empire shows in detail some of these timeless principles.
Explore. Self-Reflect. Build a Team. Strive for Victory. Endure.
I thought back on my running career at Oregon. I’d competed with, and against, men far better, faster, more physically gifted. Many were future Olympians. And yet I’d trained myself to forget this unhappy fact. People reflexively assume that competition is always a good thing, that it always brings out the best in people, but that’s only true of people who can forget the competition. The art of competing, I’d learned from track, was the art of forgetting, and I now reminded myself of that fact. You must forget your limits. You must forget your doubts, your pain, your past.