Who’s this book for?
- The ones going through rough patches or, as Seth Godin labels it, “The Dip”.
- Those who need to find their Why, and Why is this is the only thing that’ll keep you going when things get tough. I believe this book goes perfect for reading before or after “Start with why” from Simon Sinek.
- The power of persistence and consistency.
- Nike fans, to know how this brand came to be.
- Sports and athletic life enthusiasts; I firmly believe they will find many points to relate to Phil. And why he is loved across the broad spectrum of sports worldwide.
Shoe Dog is the story of Phillip Knight, ‘Buck The Bookkeeper’ (nickname when his friends mocked him for his past as an accountant), how Nike came to life, and how it started as a crazy idea fueled by his incredible passion for running. Apart from this being his memoir, I’m still not sure how much of this memoir was a marketing exercise as this has 100% hands-down transformed me into a Nike fan. In contrast, before, I didn’t mind whether I bought my athletic gear from Nike, Adidas or Reebok; I didn’t care. So, if part of this was a marketing exercise, it has been incredibly well done! As Warren Buffet said, Phillip Knight, is an exceptionally gifted storyteller.
Also fueled by what I believe is the most significant driver of all, he thought running would make the world a better place. Ultimately these altruistic values and passions are what I believe keep the highest performing entrepreneurs going, When it’s not only about them but about others.
You will find fantastic leadership examples and how he leads a bunch of ‘misfits’, as he called them in the book, to the absolute peak.
This book is one of those you cannot put down, so I’d recommend getting a full copy.
This is how mine ended up looking after all the notes I took down, and I want to immortalise them in this document. You might think I mainly write for others, but I share something I do for myself in reality. Writing my summary and critical takeaways leaves me a shortcut to access the practical information rapidly and reinforce the comprehension at the time of reading. So I encourage you to do the same.
I won’t dig into the narrative but rather point out my key takeaways and big ideas with practical lessons.
One of the first quotes from this book
“I had a crazy idea, and despite being dizzy with existential angst, and fears about the future, and doubts about myself, as all young men and women in their mid-twenties are, I did decide that the world is made up of crazy ideas. History is one long processional of crazy ideas. The things I loved most — books, sports, democracy, free enterprise — started as crazy ideas.
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 thought to where ‘there’ is. Whatever comes, just don’t stop. That’s the advice I managed to give myself, out of the blue, and somehow managed to take. Half a century later, I believe it’s the best advice — maybe the only advice — any of us should ever give.”
The more I devour books and entrepreneurs success stories, the more I find that most of them have one common denominator across all the entrepreneurship industries you can imagine. The WHY power, Phil makes it super clear even from the beginning of the book that this is what kept him going all along. And the strength he found inside that made him prevail in the bad times.
“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 realised, 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. Belief, I decided. Belief is irresistible.”
When Phillip met the Japanese factory executives that first sold shoes to him, they all discussed where the inspiration and creativity for the soles, designs and other shoe components ever came from.
All agreed that the sudden creativity comes from the most quotidian items you might imagine. For example, an idea to make a revolutionary Shoe sole came to the factory owner while eating sushi (Saw an octopus tentacle and thought this would also work for a shoe).
And the point I want to make here is that this powerful inspiration is at our complete disposal. But we must be fully and wholly dedicated to one single project to leave our minds working wonders in the background. Which, unfortunately, is an uncommon practice in entrepreneurs nowadays. Starting projects, then leaving them halfway done.
Which funny enough, is the definition of Mediocre:
Medi = Medium
Ocre = Mountain
Going up a mountain only to surrender, or come back, when you only just reached the middle.
To make your subconscious work for you, you must be wholly dedicated to your #1 goal. Phillip and his first partner, Bill Bowerman (Running coach), are clear examples of this. And indeed ‘inspiring’, I must say.
Thomas Edison once stated, “Never go to sleep without a request to your subconscious.”
And again, for the subconscious to work for you, the one requirement is being fully dedicated and focused. Be sure to always knot down your sudden creative ideas, as it’s extremely easy to forget them. I have a notebook always handy for these cases, or if I’m out and about, I just type them in my productivity software as a note.
One big takeaway from Phil’s memoir is his management style and how he managed employees by adopting Marshal Ney, Napoleon’s favourite commander, style. He didn’t say much, he wasn’t a blabbermouth, and he didn’t micromanage.
“Don’t tell people how to do things; tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.”
“I let them be, let them do, let them make their own mistakes because that’s how I’d always liked people to treat me.”
Even after going public, Nike struggled to find managers who could seize opportunities. Every time they tried finding people from outside, they failed because Nike culture was completely different.
So on one trip to Japan, Phil asked advice from one of his Japanese “partners”, Masuro Hayami; he said:
“Next year… when you come… those bamboo trees up there will be one foot higher…”
Phil understood. The main idea was to cultivate and grow the management team he had, slowly with an eye towards the long-term planning, and it worked.
“More than once, over my first cup of coffee in the morning, or while trying to fall asleep at night, I’d tell myself: Maybe I’m a fool? Maybe this whole damn shoe thing is a fool’s errand? Maybe, I thought. Maybe”
I think everyone feels like quitting at some point, and it’s something that is not unusual for top achievers. The difference is that successful people buckle up and lean in when the difficult times come. On the other hand, mediocre entrepreneurs try to ride the hard times as slowly and as averagely as possible as in power-saving mode.
If the founder of Nike felt like quitting a dozen times, I think you should think twice before you do; you might just be in a “dip” about to break through to great things.
Phil mentions how the number of sales that day dictated his mood for the day, and I’m sure many of us who embarked on the entrepreneur journey can relate.
This quote was from the 1970s when Nike generated over 300,000 USD in revenue. And 300K were much more 50 years ago than they are today.
If you calculate with a 3.90% average inflation (compounded its about 591.37%), those 300,000 would equal 2,000,000 USD today.
Never attempt to play it safe. Never stop innovating and challenging or changing your established conceptual ideas.
Playing it safe and trying to stay “good enough” is probably the most significant risk you can take. So basically, by ‘playing it safe’ and low key, you are taking the most considerable risk in terms of business.
By playing it safe and staying average, you make it easy for competitors to outgrow you. As a result, you aren’t creating any tribe of loyal customers that support your values, and you are not promoting your vision for creating a long-term cult-like following for your company.
As Nike experienced while innovating with new soles, materials and designs (And even after creating soles that were injuring the runners):
“We prepared ourselves for a public backlash (after creating soles that were injuring some runners), but it never came. On the contrary, we heard nothing but gratitude. No other shoe company was trying new things, so our efforts, successful or not, were seen as noble. All innovation hailed as progressive, forward-thinking. Just as failure didn’t deter us, it didn’t diminish the loyalty of our customers.”
There’s a vast misconception about money, and Phil aces at explaining this and why your incorrection concept about it could increase your chances of failing.
Business money is not the end goal; you should never aim just to make money. But, unfortunately, this is WHY most businesses fail, starting with the end goal being solely money.
You need to consider your business money as a means to fulfil the company’s (or really, founder) true vision. Act according to the company’s “why” of existence and treat money as life-support to make the true purpose real.
If you look at all big companies, I think I’m not the only one that will struggle to think of any company that was born with pure money-making goals. Instead, they all started with a founder’s burning desire.
“I’d like to remind them that America isn’t the entrepreneurial Shangri-La people think. Free enterprise always irritates the kinds of trolls who live to block, to thwart, to say no, sorry, no. And it’s always been this way. Entrepreneurs have always been outgunned, outnumbered. They’ve always fought uphill, and the hill has never been steeper. America is becoming less entrepreneurial, not more. A Harvard Business School study recently ranked all the countries of the world in terms of their entrepreneurial spirit. America ranked behind Peru.”
“And those who urge entrepreneurs to never give up? Charlatans. Sometimes you have to give up. Sometimes knowing when to give up, when to try something else, is genius. Giving up doesn’t mean stopping. Don’t ever stop.”
“Hard work is critical, a good team is essential, brains and determination are invaluable, but luck may decide the outcome. Some people might not call it luck. They might call it Tao, or Logos, or Jñāna, or Dharma. Or Spirit. Or God.”
Your purposes might change with time, the running muse that inspired Phil for so long doesn’t die off, but it transforms, in my opinion. Phil’s mind started racing when he first thought of doing a memoir, or a novel, perhaps a speech? — Maybe there was something on his bucket list, after all…