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#10 Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike
July 27th, 2017 | E10

What I learned from reading Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight.


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The best teacher I ever had, one of the finest men I ever knew, spoke of the Oregon Trail often. It’s our birthright, he’d growl. Our character, our fate—our DNA. “The cowards never started, the weak died along the way—that leaves us.” [0:35]

Some outsized sense of possibility mixed with a diminished capacity for pessimism. [1:03]

I found it difficult to say what or who exactly I was, or might become. Like all my friends I wanted to be successful. I didn’t know what that meant. [2:11]

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. And I wanted mine to be meaningful. And purposeful. And creative. And important. Above all . . .different. [2:35]

I asked myself: What if there were a way, without being an athlete, to feel what athletes feel? To play all the time, instead of working? Or to enjoy work so much that it becomes essentially the same thing? [4:23]

The only answer was to find some prodigious, improbable dream that seemed worthy, that seemed fun, that seemed like a good fit, and chase it with a single-minded dedication and purpose. [4:47]

Maybe my Crazy Idea just might . . . work? Maybe. No, no, I thought. It will work. By God, I’ll make it work. No maybes about it. [5:29]

So much about those days has vanished. Faces, numbers, decisions that once seemed pressing and irrevocable, they’re all gone. [6:39]

What remains is this one comforting certainty, this one anchoring truth that will never go away. At 24 I did have a Crazy Idea, and somehow, 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. [7:03]

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. Whatever comes, just don’t stop. [7:45]

That is 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. [8:08]

I knew Japanese cameras had made deep cuts into the camera market, which had once been dominated by Germans. I argued in my paper that Japanese running shoes might do the same thing. [9:00]

He was impressed. It took balls to put together an itinerary like that, he said. Balls. He wanted in. [12:01]

Carter never did mess around. See an open shot, take it—that was Carter. I told myself there was much I could learn from a guy like that as we circled the earth. [12:14]

What Phil was doing was looked upon by most of his family as crazy and extremely dangerous. [12:37]

Go home, a faint inner voice told me. Get a normal job. Be a normal person. Then I heard another faint voice equally emphatic, “No. Don’t go home. Keep going. Don’t stop.” [14:15]

Bill Bowerman was a genius coach, a master motivator, a natural leader of young men, and there was one piece of gear he deemed crucial to their development. Shoes. He was obsessed with how human beings are shod. [15:55]

He always had some new scheme to make our shoes softer and lighter. One ounce sliced off a pair of shoes is equivalent to 55 pounds over one mile. [16:42]

Lightness, Bowerman believed, directly translated into less burden, more energy, and more speed. Lightness was his constant goal. [17:11]

Frugality carried over to every part of the coach’s makeup. [17:56]

Bowerman didn’t give a damn about respectability. He possessed a prehistoric strain of maleness. Today its all but extinct. He was a war hero, too. Of course, he was. [18:47]

Bowerman never considered himself a track coach. He detested being called coach. He called himself a professor of competitive responses. His job, as he saw it, was to get you ready for the struggles and competitions that lay ahead. [19:41]

In my mind, he was Patton with a stopwatch. [20:00]

He had tested me. He had broken me down and remade me just like a pair of shoes. [23:31]

The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones. [23:57]

He always went against the grain. Always. He was the first college coach to emphasize rest, to place as much value on recovery as on work. [24:12]

He [his Dad] said he hadn’t sent me to Oregon and Stanford for me to become a door to door shoe salesman. How long do you think you’re going to keep jackassing around with these shoes? I shrugged. I don’t know, Dad. [26:19]

My sales strategy was simple. I drove all over to various track meets. Between races, I’d chat up the coaches and runners, and show them my wares. The response was always the same. I couldn’t write orders fast enough. [28:17]

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 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 is irresistible. [28:44]

Johnson believed that runners are God’s chosen, that running, done right, in the correct spirit and with the proper form, is a mystical exercise, no less than meditation or prayer, and thus he felt called to help runners reach their nirvana. [33:18]

Not even the Yahweh of running, Bowerman, was as pious about the sport as Blue Ribbon’s Part-Time Employee Number Two. [33:43]

I shook my head. I tell the man Blue Ribbon is sinking like the Titanic, and he responds by begging for a berth in first class. [35:58]

At the time I was reading everything I could get my hands on about generals, samurai, shoguns, along with biographies of my three main heroes—Churchill, Kennedy, Tolstoy. . . I wasn’t that unique. Throughout history, men have looked to the warrior for a model of Hemingway’s cardinal virtue, pressurized grace.[37:03]

Each new customer got his, or her own index card. Each index card contained that customer’s personal information, shoe size, and shoe preferences. He had hundreds and hundreds of customer correspondents, all along the spectrum of humanity, from high school track starts to octogenarian weekend joggers. [40:17]

In all the world there had never been such a sanctuary for runners, a place that didn’t just sell them shoes but celebrated them and their shoes. [42:54]

I wanted what everyone wants. To be me, full-time. [45:29]

I wanted to dedicate every minute of every day to blue ribbon. I’d never been a multitasker and I didn’t see any reason to start now. [45:59]

If my life was to be all work and no play, I wanted my work to be play. [46:15]

Phil Knight is in his 5th year in business and still has a full-time job. How many people would be willing to do that? [46:51]

Right before my thirty-first birthday I made the bold move and went full-time at my company. [48:21]

When you read this book you really feel like you get to know Phil Knight and you were there throughout his struggles. [49:39]

I struggle to remember. I close my eyes and think back, but so many precious moments from those nights are gone forever. Numberless conversations, breathless laughing fits. Declarations, revelations, confidences. They’ve all fallen into the sofa cushions of time. I remember only that we always sat up half the night, cataloging the past, mapping out the future. I remember that we took turns describing what our little company was, and what it might be, and what it must never be. How I wish, on just one of those nights, I’d had a tape recorder. Or kept a journal. [49:50]

For the first eight years of Blue Ribbon they are selling other people’s shoes. [54:00]

This is the moment we’ve been waiting for. No more selling someone else’s brand. No more working for someone else. If we are going to succeed or fail we should do so on our own terms. [56:05]

How he felt after the IPO: I asked myself. What are you feeling? If I felt anything, it was . . . regret. Good God, I thought. Yes. Regret. Because I honestly wished I could do it all over again. [59:31]

Above all, I regret not spending more time with my sons. [1:01:42]

God, how I wish I could relive the whole thing. [1:02:01]

I’d like to share the experience, the ups and downs, so that some young man or woman, somewhere, going through the same trials and ordeals, might be inspired or comforted. Or warned. Some young entrepreneur, maybe, some athlete, or painter, or novelist, might press on. It’s all the same drive. The same dream. [1:02:06]

I’d tell men and women in their mid-twenties not to settle for a job or a profession or even a career. Seek a calling. Even if you don’t know what that means, seek it. If you’re following your calling, the fatigue will be easier to bear, the disappointments will be fuel, the highs will be like nothing you’ve ever felt. [1:02:34]

I’d like to warn the best of them, the iconoclasts, the innovators, the rebels, that they will always have a bulls-eye on their backs. The better they get, the bigger the bulls-eye. It’s not one man’s opinion; it’s the law of nature. [1:03:10]

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. 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 in the world in terms of their entrepreneurial spirit. America ranked behind Peru. [1:03:27]

Giving up doesn’t mean stopping. Don’t ever stop. [1:04:23]


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