Shoe Dog - Phil Knight
“Life is growth. You grow or you die.” - the best bits from the iconic Nike founder
The Quotatist is a free newsletter which curates insightful quotes and passages from interesting books and historical letters
“You are remembered, he said, prophetically, for the rules you break”
“How can I leave my mark on the world, I thought, unless I get out there first and see it?”
“When you see only problems, you’re not seeing clearly.”
“The best way to reinforce your knowledge of a subject is to share it.”
“As ever, the accountant in me saw the risk, the entrepreneur saw the possibility.”
“But everyone’s an athlete, he said. If you have a body, you’re an athlete.”
“Confidence. More than equity, more than liquidity, that’s what a man needs.”
“I wanted what everyone wants. To be me, full-time.”
“If my life was to be all work no play, I wanted my work to be play.”
“Somebody may beat me—but they’re going to have to bleed to do it.”
“Instead of cherishing how far we'd come, I saw only how far we had to go”
“Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.”
“Beating the competition is relatively easy. Beating yourself is a never-ending commitment.”
“Have faith in yourself, but also have faith in faith. Not faith as others define it. Faith as you define it. Faith as faith defines itself in your heart.”
“I wanted to build something that was my own, something I could point to and say: I made that. It was the only way I saw to make life meaningful.”
“There were many ways down Mount Fuji, according to my guidebook, but only one way up. Life lesson in that, I thought. Signs”
“Hard work is critical, a good team is essential, brains and determination are invaluable, but luck may decide the outcome.”
“Confidence was cash. You had to have some to get some. And people were loath to give it to you.”
“I didn’t consider myself an optimist by nature. Not that I was a pessimist. I generally tried to hover between the two, committing to neither.”
“I’d tell men and women in their midtwenties 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.”
“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.”
“Like books, sports give people a sense of having lived other lives, of taking part in other people’s victories. And defeats. When sports are at their best, the spirit of the fan merges with the spirit of the athlete.”
“But that’s the nature of money. Whether you have it or not, whether you want it or not, whether you like it or not, it will try to define your days. Our task as human beings is not to let it.
“I thought back on my running career at Oregon. I’d competed with, and against, men far better, faster, more physically gifted. Many were future Olympians. And yet I’d trained myself to forget this unhappy fact. People reflexively assume that competition is always a good thing, that it always brings out the best in people, but that’s only true of people who can forget the competition. The art of competing, I’d learned from track, was the art of forgetting, and I now reminded myself of that fact. You must forget your limits. You must forget your doubts, your pain, your past.”
“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. Luck plays a big role. Yes, I’d like to publicly acknowledge the power of luck. Athletes get lucky, poets get lucky, businesses get lucky. 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.”
“I was a linear thinker, and according to Zen linear thinking is nothing but a delusion, one of the many that keep us unhappy. Reality is nonlinear, Zen says. No future, no past. All is now.”
“Starting my own business was the only thing that made life’s other risks—marriage, Vegas, alligator wrestling—seem like sure things. But my hope was that when I failed, if I failed, I’d fail quickly, so I’d have enough time, enough years, to implement all the hard-won lessons. I wasn’t much for setting goals, but this goal kept flashing through my mind every day, until it became my internal chant: Fail fast.
“Driving back to Portland I’d puzzle over my sudden success at selling. 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 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.
“I read in my guidebook that Michelangelo was miserable while painting his masterpiece. His back and neck ached. Paint fell constantly into his hair and eyes. He couldn’t wait to be finished, he told friends. If even Michelangelo didn’t like his work, I thought, what hope is there for the rest of us?”
“I trusted them, wholly, and didn’t look over their shoulders, and that bred a powerful two-way loyalty. My management style wouldn’t have worked for people who wanted to be guided, every step, but this group found it liberating, empowering. 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, there were so many problems. “We have so much opportunity, but we’re having a terrible time getting managers who can seize those opportunities. We try people from the outside, but they fail, because our culture is so different.” Mr. Hayami nodded. “See those bamboo trees up there?” he asked. “Yes.” “Next year . . . when you come . . . they will be one foot higher.” I stared. I understood.”
“I went to Cairo, to the Giza plateau, and stood beside desert nomads and their silk-draped camels at the foot of the Great Sphinx, all of us squinting up into its eternally open eyes. The sun hammered down on my head, the same sun that hammered down on the thousands of men who built these pyramids, and the millions of visitors who came after. Not one of them was remembered, I thought. All is vanity, says the Bible. All is now, says Zen. All is dust, says the desert.”
“When you hired an accountant, you knew he or she could count. When you hired a lawyer, you knew he or she could talk. When you hired a marketing expert, or product developer, what did you know? Nothing. You couldn’t predict what he or she could do, or if he or she could do anything.”
“Every runner knows this. You run and run, mile after mile, and you never quite know why. You tell yourself that you’re running toward some goal, chasing some rush, but really you run because the alternative, stopping, scares you to death.”
“When you make something, when you improve something, when you deliver something, when you add some new thing or service to the lives of strangers, making them happier, or healthier, or safer, or better, and when you do it all crisply and efficiently, smartly, the way everything should be done but so seldom is—you’re participating more fully in the whole grand human drama. More than simply alive, you’re helping others to live more fully, and if that’s business, all right, call me a businessman.”
About Shoe Dog
In this candid and riveting memoir, for the first time ever, Nike founder and CEO Phil Knight shares the inside story of the company’s early days as an intrepid start-up and its evolution into one of the world’s most iconic, game-changing, and profitable brands.
In 1962, fresh out of business school, Phil Knight borrowed $50 from his father and created a company with a simple mission: import high-quality, low-cost athletic shoes from Japan. Selling the shoes from the trunk of his lime green Plymouth Valiant, Knight grossed $8,000 his first year. Today, Nike’s annual sales top $30 billion. In an age of startups, Nike is the ne plus ultra of all startups, and the swoosh has become a revolutionary, globe-spanning icon, one of the most ubiquitous and recognizable symbols in the world today.
I write to learn. More about me here.