JUST READ IT PHIL KNIGHT’S ‘SHOE DOG’
Long time readers of this newsletter will know that sports have always been an important part of my life. Baseball and basketball were particularly formative for me, and I still enjoy watching them to this day. So, as a sports fan and a small business owner, it should come as no surprise that I deeply enjoyed the next book on our summer review list: “Shoe Dog.” In case you missed this New York Times bestseller, “Shoe Dog” is the memoir of Nike founder Phil Knight. Having granted very few interviews throughout his career, Knight’s personal reflections on building the most recognizable sports brand in the world is fascinating to say the least. But, to the extent the Fortune 500 mogul is willing to open up, the personal struggle he uncovers makes “Shoe Dog” a compelling read. This isn’t a braggadocious book where Knight explains, “How I got rich, and you can, too,” nor is it his brazen attempt to appear humble. If anything, “Shoe Dog” reads almost like
a confessional with the author’s self-critical attitude appearing at every turn. To enter Phil Knight’s mind is to enter a world of doubt and uncertainty that drives home just how unlikely Nike’s rise really was. This tone not only humanizes the shoe mogul, but also makes his story suspenseful despite the fact we know how it ends up.
create the now iconic swoop, Knight’s first reaction was “I don’t love it.” For all the self- criticism, two virtues emerge from Knight’s autobiography. First is his indomitable will to keep striding toward
his dream. Business models changed and debt piled up, but the former track runner stuck to his mantra: “Whatever comes, just don’t stop.” Second is Knight’s ability to trust the people he worked with. Even when he didn’t like a logo or a design, he was willing to defer to the judgement of the professionals on his team. As he puts it, “Don’t tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do, and let them surprise you with the results.” Whether you’ve ever watched basketball and wondered what the story behind the swoop on the players shoes is all about or dreamed of one day owning your own business, “Shoe Dog” is the book for you. Knight’s honest, gripping personal account will change how you look at success and have you blowing through chapter after chapter.
Following Knight from the University of Oregon track and field team, where he first became interested in running shoes, to his time selling imported Japanese sneakers out of the trunk of his car, you get a sense of how close he came to failure. Struggling with debt throughout much of the book and proving indecisive at key junctures, his chance of success always seems to be slipping out of reach. In fact, this might be the anti-personal development book. So many books out there present success as a simple matter of will power: “If you just do X, Y, and Z, you’ll find your way to the top.” Knight’s story flies in the face of this attitude. The way he tells it, Nike’s rise was less a calculated breakthrough and more a series of lucky breaks. Knight even admits he underestimated the company’s name and logo, arguably Nike’s most valuable assets. After paying an art student $35 to
“AFTER PAYING AN ART STUDENT $35 TO CREATE THE NOW ICONIC SWOOP, KNIGHT’S FIRST REACTION WAS ‘I DON’T LOVE IT.’”
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