Do you ever wonder how giant, billion-dollar organizations are crafted? If so, Shoe Dog written by Phil Knight, the co-founder of Nike, is for you. In some ways the book is what you might expect. At its center is a competitive and well-educated man willing to live in insecurity for the hope of a dream and the success of a product he believes in. But, this book has many surprises, and it does not read like a self-help book. It reads like a story with all of the complexities and surprises that one comes to expect from life.
The characters of this book are as colorful as the merchandise at a Nike store. Knight recalls in detail individuals crossing his path. He recounts the oddities within himself and others. He reveals opportunities seized through risk taking and being in the right place at the right time. He touches on the uncertain and transformative decades following the Second World War. He fondly remembers some of the sweetest moments of his life while acknowledging a few of the sour ones.
Knight also shares some great advice along the way. Although his memoir is rarely blatantly helpful, he does share some principles through his storytelling. Much like Nike’s slogan, Knight shares with his audience the simple but immensely valuable concepts of endurance and autonomy. These concepts of autonomy, endurance, and enjoyment give a glimpse of what it means to find successful, enjoyable work that is fulfilling. Knight believed in his product, had autonomy in his work, gave high levels of autonomy to many of his employees, and enjoyed the competitive process of producing the best shoes for the best athletes.
Having said that, Knight’s work did not come without its stressors. Knight talks of all of the luxurious relationships and trips that came with his work, but he also talks about law suits, public backlash for factory conditions, the financial instability of reinvesting profits back into the company, and the negative affects that a consuming career had on his family. Such a successful career and business did not come without its sacrifices.
Additionally, such a successful career did not come without special relationships and opportunities. As many successful people, Knight had many breaks, and he seemed to be born into the right time for his successes. Knight’s track connections, post World War II Japan, and Knight’s parents were some of the reasons for his success. Having said that, Knight’s hard work, perseverance, passion, and risk taking undeniably had a lot to do with his success as well.
The last chapter in the book is the best. After sharing his story and giving the reader sufficient context, Knight reflects on his life, partners, and business. Knight catches the readers up on the lives of the odd and amazing stories of the founders, he criticizes pessimism about the future of business and life in the United States, he illuminates some of the progress that Nike has made in addressing factory working conditions and other social issues, and he gives a list of regrets intermingled with part of the reasoning that motivated him to write Shoe Dog. For anyone interested in shoes and/or entrepreneurship, Shoe Dog may be a good book to pick up. For those not interested in those subjects, Shoe Dog is personable and relatable enough to entertain.