I skipped a job interview because of this book.
On paper, the position looked good - the benefits, the role, the company - but something made it feel… empty. Sitting down one evening to review my interview notes, the rumble of a delivery truck outside alerted me to the arrival of my most recent book purchase.
My friend’s praise of Shoe Dog beckoned me to open it. No, I have a job interview tomorrow, and successful people don’t read for fun the night before an interview… Well ok, at 9:00PM I can crack it open to sample a page or two, then it’s back to work!
Page 3: Like all my friends I wanted to be successful. Unlike all my friends I didn’t know what that meant. Money? Maybe. Wife? Kids? House? Sure, if I was lucky. These were the goals I was taught to aspire to, and part of me did aspire to them, instinctively. But deep down I was search for something else, something more. 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.
Well that was pretty good… maybe one more page, then back to studying.
Page 4: Maybe the only answer, I thought, was to find some prodigious, improbable dream that seemed worthy, that seemed fun, that seemed like a good fit, and chase it with an athlete’s single-minded dedication and purpose.
Screw you Phil Knight, I have an interview tomorrow morning for a position that I might be able to eventually convince myself I could potentially enjoy. It’s not like I’m going to find any meaningful wisdom in a whimsical book about a shoe company.
Page 5: At twenty-four I did have a Crazy Idea, and somehow, despite being dizzy with existential angst, and fears about the future, and doubts about myself… I did decide that the world is made 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.
Sometime around 4AM, I finally ran out of pages.
Page 383: So much to do. So much to learn… Now I really can’t sleep. I get up and grab a yellow legal pad from my desk… I begin to make a list.
Not your typical biography
This is an origin story, a tale of adventure as a young man seeks to find his true calling, scraps together a company around it, then reaches for ever greater heights.
What surprised me was the author's self-awareness and authentic voice: recognizing when failures were due to personal flaws and successes attributable to luck. It would be easy for an autobiography about a multi-billionaire to extol the virtues of hard work or creativity ("one simple trick to make you millions!"). This book does not delve into checklists or lessons, opting instead for an honest and intriguing tale. He paints a nuanced view of how intentional and accidental experiences shaped his outlook and decision-making. And he gives credit to others where it's due. I'm sure the ghostwriter had a lot to do with the final narrative, but everyone can benefit from studying the humility with which Phil Knight's story is conveyed.
Travel for Personal Development
The travel genre is awash with hogwash.
YouTube vloggers and Instagram "influencers" presenting carefully-crafted camera angles and stampeding through foreign countries without understanding anything about the local culture and customs. Digital Nomads living a life of isolation on a foreign beach, relentlessly marketing how enviable their lives are while pumping out worthless self-help instructionals. American students "finding themselves" through study abroad programs, more aptly described as partying in Barcelona clubs with other Americans.
At 24 years old, Phil Knight didn't have a plan except for an untested idea about importing Japanese shoes to the US. He set out on an extended journey around the world, reading extensively and studying not only his surroundings but himself:
Hong Kong before it became the bustling metropolis, Japan while the scars of the war were impossible to miss, the poverty of the Philipines, Vietnam just before the war, the desolation of communist-controlled East Berlin, Bankok, Calcutta, Katmandu, Bombay, Kenya, Cairo, Jerusalem, Istanbul, Rome, Milan, Paris, Munich, Vienna, London, Greece, and more.
The pages where he discussed his travels, plus references to its lessons throughout the book, were some of the most captivating and inspiring of the entire story.
- For several years, Nike was a "side hustle" to Phil Knight's day job at PWC
- Nike had to overcome serious obstacles as it grew - several existential-threat lawsuits from larger competitors, multiple disastrous manufacturing and banking issues, and a $25 million fine from US Customs before the company IPO'd.
- Phil Knight's business started in the 1960's, before venture capital was an established industry. As a result, his desire to rapidly grow the company placed a huge amount of risk on on-time payments ("living on float") and resulted in him losing banking access at times.
“The cowards never started,” he’d tell me, “and the weak died along the way - that leaves us.”
"It seems wrong to call it ‘business.’ It seems wrong to throw all those hectic days and sleepless nights, all those magnificent triumphs and desperate struggles, under that bland, generic banner: business. What we were doing felt so much more…When you add some new thing or service to the lives of strangers, making them happier, or healthier, or safer, or better…you’re participating more fully in the whole grand human drama. More than simply alive, you’re helping others to live more fully."
"Don't tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with the results."
"You are remembered for the rules you break."