What I Learned From Phil Knight

Over the holiday weekend, I read Phil Knight’s excellent memoir, “Shoe Dog.” There were moments that were touching, moments that were funny, and moments that were inspirational.  In short, I loved it!  Here are a few thoughts:

  • Passion – This book is rare in that it does a good job of communicating the spirit behind the creation of Nike, and not just the historical chronology.  “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.”  I couldn’t agree more.
  • Work, Play, and Balance – It’s easy to see the hard work (continuing his day job as a CPA while trying to keep his company afloat, moving their corporate office on weekends, etc).  One motivation for starting Nike was that Phil Knight wanted his work to be about play.  He is also incredibly honest about his regrets of working too hard and not spending enough time with his young family.  He encourages us to think clearly about how we spend our time.  There are never enough hours to do everything we want.  It’s always then a matter of priority.
  • Innovation – Starting with the idea of importing shoes from Japan to Bowerman’s waffle maker the importance of innovation, growth, and continued innovation drips from almost every page of the book.  The most surprising to me was Phil Knight’s reluctance to believe in the power of advertising and branding.  Despite his reluctance, they made investment after investment in advertisements, athletes, and sales incentives.  For Mr. Knight, was true innovation the creativity of each new Nike marketing effort, or the willingness to rely on others who had a more profound intuitive feel for the power of each breakthrough?
  • It’s Business, and It’s Personal –  For me, the essence and power of the entire story come from his natural longing to be a part of a team – to share the credit, the benefits, and the story of his life’s work.  Each touching moment in the book, and there are many, emerge from the human emotions of the story.  It’s easy to feel empathetic because it’s impossible to separate the man and the business.  It’s the story of a business, and it’s also the story of his life.  The same is true of each of us.

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