I just finished reading Nike CEO Phil Knight’s memoir, Shoe Dog, which tells the story of the creation of his now iconic company.
Knight’s story is compelling and candid and gratifyingly straightforward. He makes himself vulnerable and doesn’t pretend to be a sage or saint.
I was hooked in the foreword by his telling of an epiphany moment, when in his early twenties out for a run in the woods he decided how he wanted his life to unfold:
“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.
No, that’s not right. I simply didn’t want to lose.
And then it happened. As my young heart began to thump, as my pink lungs expanded like the wings of a bird, as the trees turned to greenish blurs, I saw it all before me, exactly what I wanted my life to be. Play.
Yes, I thought, that’s it. That’s the word. The secret of happiness, I’d always suspected, the essence of beauty or truth, or all we ever need to know of either, lay somewhere in that moment when the ball is in midair, when both boxers sense the approach of the bell, when the runners near the finish line and the crowd rises as one. There’s a kind of exuberant clarity in that pulsing half second before winning and losing are decided. I wanted that, whatever that was, to be my life, my daily life.
…What if there were a way, without being an athlete, to feel what athletes feel? To play all the time, instead of working? Or else to enjoy work so much that it becomes essentially the same thing.”
And it’s a great start to the book, propelling the reader into a story that is filled with the kinds of ups and downs you might expect in a career and a company of such magnitude.
The book is devoted mostly to the Nike origin story and the people Knight surrounded himself with in the very beginning in the 1960s and 70s as they created the worldwide juggernaut that Nike eventually became.
Nike came perilously close to not making it out of its infancy. But Knight and his team were resilient and persistent and savvy enough to beat the odds and create a company that resonates beyond even its products.
As business books go, this one is refreshingly readable with some worthwhile insights whether your aim is to be a titan of industry or just the captain of your own fate.