An amazing memoir by Nike’s co-founder, Shoe Dog chronicles Phil Knight’s journey from a college grad doing soul searching to founding a company with a team of extremely talented misfits like him. Phil narrated his stories so well that I felt I’m reliving the moments with him. My top takeaways from this book:
1. Do what you believe in:
“I’d puzzle over my sudden success at selling. I’d been unable to sell encyclopedias, and I’d despised it to boot. I’d been slightly better at selling mutual funds, but I’d felt dead inside. So why was selling shoes so different? Because, I realized, it wasn’t selling. I believed in running. I believed that if people got out and ran a few miles every day, the world would be a better place, and I believed these shoes were better to run in. People, sensing my belief, wanted some of that belief for themselves.”
2. Grow and compete with yourself:
1) “Beating the competition is relatively easy. Beating yourself is a never-ending commitment.”
2) “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. You must forget that internal voice screaming, begging, “Not one more step!” And when it’s not possible to forget it, you must negotiate with it. I thought over all the races in which my mind wanted one thing., and my body wanted another, those laps in which I’d had to tell my body, “Yes you raise some excellent points, but let’s keep going anyway…”
3. Be fearless and fail fast:
1) But my hope was that when I failed, if I failed, I’d fail quickly, so I’d have enough time, enough years, to implement all the hard-won lessons. I wasn’t much for setting goals, but this goal kept flashing through my mind every day, until it became my internal chant: Fail fast.
2) Fear of failure I thought, will never be our downfall as a company. Not that any of us thought we wouldn’t fail; in fact we had every expectation that we would. But when we did fail, we had faith we’d do it fast, learn from it, and be better for it.”
4. It’s more than business:
“But for us business was no more about making money than being human is about making blood. Yes, the human body needs blood. It needs to manufacture red and white cells and platelets and redistribute them evenly, smoothly, to all the right places, on time, or else. But that day-to-day business of the human body isn’t our mission as human beings. It’s a basic process that enables our higher aims, and life always strives to transcend the basic processes of living – and at some point in the late 1970s, I did, too. I redefined winning, expanded it beyond my original definition of not losing, of merely staying alive. That was no longer enough to sustain me, or my company. We wanted, to say so aloud. When you make something, when you improve something, when you deliver something, when you add some new thing or service to the lives of strangers, making them happier, or healthier, or safer, or better, and when you do it all crisply and efficiently, smartly, the way everything should be done but so seldom is — you’re participating more fully in the whole grand human drama. More than simply alive, you’re helping others to live more fully, and if that’s business, all right, call me a businessman.”
One question I asked myself after reading Phil’s comment about failing fast is that: “Am I taking enough risks at this stage of my life and am I failing fast enough?”
It’s worth noting though, Phil was great at managing his risks: for the first six years of Nike, Phil was working full-time elsewhere.
His Nike (formerly known as Blue Ribbon Sport) journey began in 1962 during his trip around the world when he made a stop in Kobe, Japan where he discovered the Tiger-brand running shoes. He began importing their shoes to the U.S. (the first Tiger samples took more than a year to be “shipped” to him though). From 1963 to 1967, Phil was working in a public accounting firm (now PwC) as a CPA; from 1967 to 1968, he worked at Portland State University as an assistant accounting professor for more free time for his shoe passion and a steady paycheck (which he used to support the business). He finally decided to work on Nike full-time after 1968.
It does look like Phil had the best of both worlds (corporate and startup), but it wasn’t easy, and it worked out because Phil WORKED HARD for it! In an interview by SportsBusiness, the journalist asked “In 1965, you worked 50 to 55 hours a week at Price Waterhouse, talked to coaches on lunch breaks and spent weekends selling shoes at track meets. As far as I can tell, you didn’t take a draw on company profits until 1969, when you bought a house. How did those lean early years shape you and shape Nike?”
Phil answered, “The hardships of the early years [including a lawsuit against Onitsuka and customs fights], all of those things tempered what was to become Nike. It’s a big part of our culture today and it’s part of our success.”
Time to act – how this book can help you grow!
Think of Phil Knight whenever you’re pursuing something you truly believe in! Ask yourself who you are competing against, yourself or someone else? Are you willing to fail fast in whatever your pursue? What is driving you, is it money or something with a greater meaning?