#10 Shoe Dog A Memoir by the Creator of Nike



In the memoir "Shoe Dog" by Nike's creator Phil Knight, he reflects on his journey from selling Japanese running shoes out of his car to building a global empire, emphasizing the relentless spirit of entrepreneurship. Knight candidly shares the struggles, including battles with suppliers and the US government, leading to Nike's creation and eventual IPO. Despite his immense success, Knight expresses deep regret over not spending more time with his family and advises aspiring entrepreneurs to seek a calling, not just a career. He warns of the inevitable challenges and the necessity of knowing when to pivot, underscoring that perseverance doesn't always mean sticking to the same path. Knight's story is a testament to the power of belief, innovation, and the courage to follow one's own path, even in the face of adversity.

Summary Notes

Early Morning Run and Reflections

  • Phil Knight describes his routine of waking early and going for a run.
  • He contemplates the difficulty of starting each run and the solitude of the morning.
  • Phil reflects on the teachings of a revered teacher who spoke about the Oregon trail and the pioneer spirit.
  • He muses on his return home after years away and the strangeness of being back in his childhood environment.
  • Despite his accomplishments and qualifications, Phil struggles with his identity and future aspirations.
  • Phil yearns for a life of meaning, purpose, creativity, and distinction from the norm.
  • During his run, he envisions the concept of 'play' as the essence of happiness and beauty.
  • He acknowledges his limitations in becoming a great athlete but still desires the feelings associated with athletic achievement.
  • Phil contemplates the possibility of making work as enjoyable as play and considers pursuing a 'prodigious, improbable dream.'

"Why is it so, always so hard to get started?" "The cowards never started, and the weak died along the way. That leaves us." "I'd recently blazed my own trail back home after seven long years away." "I had an aching sense that our time is short, shorter than we ever know, short as a morning run." "Play. Yes, I thought, that's it. That's the word, the secret of happiness." "Maybe the only answer, I thought, was to find some prodigious, improbable dream that seemed worthy, that seemed fun, that seemed a good fit, and chase it with an athlete's single-minded dedication and purpose."

  • The quotes reflect Phil's internal struggle with starting his day and his broader existential concerns.
  • He draws inspiration from the pioneer spirit and the teachings about the Oregon trail.
  • Phil feels out of place back home and is unsure of his adult identity despite his achievements.
  • The concept of 'play' emerges as a central theme in his quest for a fulfilling life.
  • He seeks a way to integrate the joy of athletic play into his professional life.
  • Phil considers chasing a significant and enjoyable dream with dedication as a possible solution to his restlessness.

The Crazy Idea

  • Phil Knight recalls a seminar on entrepreneurship that led to a research paper about shoes.
  • His paper proposed that Japanese running shoes could disrupt the market, similar to Japanese cameras.
  • Despite his classmates' indifference, his professor recognized the idea's potential, awarding him an A.
  • Phil wants to travel the world before settling into adulthood and plans to visit Japan to explore shoe importing.
  • He decides to bring along his Stanford classmate, Carter, as a travel companion.
  • Carter's enthusiasm for the ambitious travel itinerary impresses Phil.
  • Phil's idea to import Japanese shoes is rooted in his passion for running and business acumen.

"It was one of my final classes, a seminar on entrepreneurship." "The idea interested me, then inspired me, then captivated me." "The professor thought my crazy idea had merit. He gave me an A." "Long before approaching my father, I decided it would be good to have a companion on my trip." "What a swell idea, Buck. Balls he wanted in."

  • The quotes capture the origin of Phil's idea to import Japanese shoes and his academic validation.
  • Phil's enthusiasm for the idea grows from interest to inspiration to captivation.
  • His professor's approval of the idea provides encouragement.
  • Phil considers the importance of companionship for his journey, choosing his classmate Carter.
  • Carter's reaction to the travel plan shows excitement and a shared sense of adventure.

Travel and the Pursuit of the Idea

  • Phil and Carter's trip begins with an extended stay in Hawaii, where they work various jobs.
  • The initial plan to travel the world is sidetracked by their enjoyment of Hawaii.
  • Phil experiences contentment in Hawaii but eventually feels the need to continue pursuing his plan.
  • Carter's new relationship in Hawaii causes him to want to stay, leading Phil to consider traveling alone.
  • Phil debates between returning home for a normal life or continuing the journey as planned.
  • He decides to leave Hawaii alone and travels to Tokyo to pitch his shoe importing idea.
  • Phil secures a deal with a Japanese shoe factory for the brand 'Tiger' and continues his world trip.
  • The narrative emphasizes the importance of perseverance in the face of uncertainty and the pursuit of a 'crazy idea.'

"A perfect Hawaiian autumn followed days of contentment and something close to bliss." "I think maybe the time has come to leave Shangri-La." "No, don't go home. Keep going. Don't stop." "So Phil leaves Carter in Hawaii on Thanksgiving Day. He flies to Tokyo." "He winds up doing a deal for the shoe called the Tiger."

  • The quotes describe Phil's emotional journey during his stay in Hawaii and his decision to move forward.
  • Phil's contentment in Hawaii is juxtaposed with his inner urge to resume his original plan.
  • Despite the temptation to settle for a comfortable life, Phil chooses to continue his pursuit of the idea.
  • Phil's departure from Hawaii marks a significant step towards realizing his entrepreneurial vision.
  • The deal with the Japanese shoe factory represents a tangible success in his business venture.

Bill Bowerman's Influence

  • Phil Knight sends two pairs of the Japanese shoes to his former track coach, Bill Bowerman.
  • Bowerman's obsession with improving running shoes had a profound impact on Phil.
  • Bowerman's relentless experimentation with shoes aimed to enhance performance and reduce weight.
  • His belief in the importance of lightness in shoes influenced Phil's perspective on footwear design.
  • Bowerman's dedication to winning and his innovative approach to coaching are highlighted.
  • Phil's respect for Bowerman and their lasting relationship are evident in the narrative.

"I sent two pairs to my old track coach at Oregon, Bill Bowerman." "He was obsessed with how human beings are shod." "Lightness, Bowerman believed, directly translated to less burden, which meant more energy, which meant more speed." "Bowerman didn't like to lose. I got it from him. Thus, lightness was his constant goal."

  • The quotes convey Phil's admiration for Bowerman's innovative spirit and his influence on Phil's interest in shoes.
  • Bowerman's obsession with footwear and its impact on athletic performance is a key theme.
  • The emphasis on lightness in shoes aligns with Bowerman's and Phil's shared desire for speed and winning.
  • Phil's decision to send the shoes to Bowerman is a nod to the coach's lasting impact on his life and career.

Personality of Bauerman

  • Phil Knight expresses a deep yearning to impress and please Bauerman, craving his approval more than any man other than his father.
  • Bauerman is described as frugal with praise, weighing and hoarding words of praise like uncut diamonds.
  • Phil Knight had a relationship with Bauerman characterized by both love and fear, similar to the dynamic with his father.
  • Both Bauerman and Phil Knight's father, named Bill, were cryptic and alpha males, but driven by different demons.
  • Bauerman came from a prestigious background, with a father who was a governor and ancestors who were pioneers in Oregon.
  • Bauerman's personality is described as prehistoric, with a blend of grit, integrity, and stubbornness.

"Besides my father, there was no man whose approval I craved more. And besides my father, there was no man who gave it less." "Bauerman, whose father had been governor of Oregon, didn't give a damn for respectability." "He possessed a prehistoric strain of maleness, a blend of grit and integrity and calcified stubbornness that was rare in Lyndon Johnson's America."

These quotes highlight the deep emotional impact Bauerman had on Phil Knight, the contrast between Bauerman and Phil Knight's father, and the unique, almost archaic character traits that defined Bauerman.

Bauerman's Philosophy and Coaching

  • Bauerman saw himself not as a track coach but as a "professor of competitive responses."
  • His aim was to prepare athletes for future struggles and competitions beyond the track.
  • Bauerman's coaching methods involved tough love and unconventional strategies, including his philosophy on rest and recovery.
  • He had a unique strategy for running the mile that seemed impossible but proved effective.
  • Bauerman's contributions to Nike's innovation are highlighted, including the famous waffle iron story.

"Bauerman never considered himself a track coach. He detested being called coach." "His job, as he saw it and often described it, was to get you ready for the struggles and competitions that lay ahead, far beyond Oregon." "Bauerman's strategy for running the mile was simple. Set a fast pace for the first two laps, run the third as hard as you can, then triple your speed on the fourth."

These quotes illustrate Bauerman's self-perception as a mentor preparing athletes for life, his unique and effective coaching strategies, and his contribution to the early innovations that would become central to Nike's success.

Phil Knight's Early Business Struggles and Family Dynamics

  • Phil Knight's father disapproved of him selling shoes, which he saw as undignified.
  • Phil's mother supported him by buying a pair of the shoes he was selling.
  • The early days of Nike involved selling shoes out of the trunk of a car and dealing with skepticism from family.

"Buck, he said. How long do you think you're going to keep jackassing around with these shoes?" "I'd like to purchase one pair of limberups, please, she said, loud enough for him to hear."

The first quote demonstrates the lack of support from Phil Knight's father regarding his shoe business, while the second quote shows his mother's subtle way of supporting her son's venture, highlighting the family dynamics at play during the early days of Nike.

Phil Knight's Sales Strategy and the Power of Belief

  • Phil Knight's sales strategy involved directly engaging with the running community at track meets.
  • He found success in selling shoes, not because he was selling, but because he believed in the product and the benefits of running.
  • His belief in the product and running as a sport was irresistible to customers, leading to the organic growth of a mail-order business.

"Because I realized it wasn't selling. I believed in running." "Belief, I decided, belief is irresistible."

The quotes convey Phil Knight's realization that his success in selling shoes came from his genuine belief in the product and the sport, which resonated with customers and distinguished his approach from traditional sales tactics.

Jeff Johnson's Eccentricity and Contribution to Nike

  • Jeff Johnson, Nike's first full-time employee, was extremely eccentric and passionate about running.
  • He was proactive, constantly communicating with Phil Knight, and suggesting new ideas for expanding the business.
  • Johnson's belief in running as a spiritual exercise aligned with the company's philosophy.

"Every time a thought crossed Johnson's mind, seemingly he wrote it down and stuck it into an envelope." "In his heart of hearts, 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."

These quotes highlight Jeff Johnson's intense enthusiasm and dedication to running, which drove his frequent and detailed correspondence with Phil Knight, and his belief in the spiritual aspect of running, which fueled his commitment to helping runners achieve their potential.

Dewey Romanticism and Early Nike Culture

  • Dewey romanticism refers to a deep, almost spiritual dedication to a sport or activity.
  • Phil Knight encountered this level of commitment in Jeff Johnson, an early part of Nike's team.
  • Johnson's passion for running was integral to the early culture of Blue Ribbon Sports (later Nike).

"At this kind of Dewey romanticism was something I'd never encountered, not even the yahweh of running. Bauerman was as pious about the sport as Blue Ribbon's part time employee number two."

The quote highlights the profound dedication to running that Johnson and others at Blue Ribbon Sports (Nike) shared, likening it to a religious experience.

Phil Knight's Role and Johnson's Aspirations

  • Phil Knight, co-founder of Nike, was initially a part-time employee at his own company.
  • Johnson, another early employee, was driven by a belief in the company and the sport of running.
  • Johnson saw Blue Ribbon Sports as a way to make a living from his passion for running, despite the company's financial struggles.

"Above all, Johnson wanted to make a living doing it, meaning running, which was next to Impossible in 1965, in me, in blue ribbon, he thought he saw a way."

The quote expresses Johnson's ambition to earn a living through his passion for running and his belief that Blue Ribbon Sports could be the vehicle for achieving this.

Phil Knight's Management Style and Influence

  • Phil Knight was influenced by various figures, including Bill Bowerman, his father, and historical leaders.
  • His management style was hands-off, allowing employees like Johnson to work creatively and independently.
  • Knight admired leaders who demonstrated grace under pressure and applied these principles to his business approach.

"Don't tell people how to do things, tell them what to do, and let them surprise you with their results."

This quote from the transcript encapsulates Knight's management philosophy, emphasizing the importance of setting goals and allowing individuals the freedom to achieve them in their own way.

Johnson's Customer Relationship Management

  • Johnson's meticulous approach to customer service was ahead of its time, resembling an analog CRM system.
  • He maintained detailed records of customers, sent personalized correspondence, and fostered a strong community among runners.
  • His efforts contributed significantly to building a loyal customer base for Blue Ribbon Sports.

"Each new customer got his or her own index card, and each index card contained that customer's personal information, shoe size, and shoe preferences."

The quote describes Johnson's early customer relationship management efforts, which personalized the customer experience and helped cultivate a dedicated community around the brand.

Phil Knight's Personal Sacrifices and Growth of Blue Ribbon Sports

  • Phil Knight juggled multiple responsibilities while growing Blue Ribbon Sports, including a full-time job at Price Waterhouse and military service.
  • Despite the challenges, Knight's commitment to Blue Ribbon Sports was unwavering, and he aspired to dedicate himself fully to the company.
  • By 1969, the company's success allowed Knight to draw a salary and focus entirely on Blue Ribbon Sports.

"My life was out of balance, sure, but I didn't care. In fact, I wanted even more imbalance, or a different kind of imbalance. I wanted to dedicate every minute of every day to blue ribbon."

This quote reflects Phil Knight's intense dedication to his company, showing his willingness to sacrifice personal balance for the success of Blue Ribbon Sports.

The Founding of Nike's First Retail Store

  • Johnson's persistence led to the opening of Blue Ribbon Sports' first retail store, which became a sanctuary for runners.
  • The store was designed to be a community space, reflecting Johnson's vision of creating a cult-like following for running enthusiasts.
  • This approach to retail was innovative and would later be mirrored by other successful brands like Lululemon.

"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."

The quote describes the unique environment of Blue Ribbon Sports' first retail store, which was not just a store but a celebration of running culture, setting a precedent for community-focused retail experiences.

Phil Knight's Reading Habits and Inspirations

  • Phil Knight was an avid reader, drawing inspiration from historical figures and their biographies.
  • His interests in leadership, history, and philosophy influenced his approach to running Blue Ribbon Sports.
  • Knight's self-education and reflection on his heroes helped shape the ethos and strategy of his company.

"I had no love of violence, but I was fascinated by leadership, or lack thereof, under extreme conditions."

The quote reveals Phil Knight's interest in leadership, particularly in challenging situations, which he found analogous to the business world, shaping his perspective on running a company.

Phil Knight's Career Transition

  • Phil Knight discusses his decision to quit his previous job and focus full-time on his company, setting his salary at $18,000 a year.
  • This indicates a pivotal moment in Knight's career, marking the beginning of his full commitment to his entrepreneurial venture.

I quit and went full time at my company, paying myself a fairly generous salary of $18,000 a year. Okay.

  • The quote reflects Phil Knight's decision to invest his time and effort entirely into his company, which would later become Nike.

The Nature and Purpose of the Podcast

  • The podcast aims to highlight interesting parts of books without summarizing them, with the intent to educate and entertain listeners.
  • The host emphasizes the value of reading the full book for a comprehensive understanding of the story.

Goal of this podcast is definitely not to summarize the books. I'm just pulling out interesting parts and hopefully you learned something and you're entertained.

  • This quote outlines the podcast's approach to discussing books, focusing on extracting intriguing elements rather than providing complete summaries.

The Importance of Documentation

  • Speaker B reflects on the importance of documenting personal moments, inspired by Knight's writing.
  • The conversation touches on the fleeting nature of time and the value of recording life's experiences.

And it just makes me realize, like, I want to start recording conversations I have with her, put her more on video. We already do take a lot of pictures, but you'll see why.

  • The speaker expresses a desire to preserve memories with their child through recording, underlining the importance of capturing life's moments as they pass quickly.

Authenticity and Memory in Knight's Book

  • Phil Knight shares his regret over not documenting the early days of his company.
  • The discussion highlights the authenticity of Knight's book and its ability to make readers feel connected to his experiences and struggles.

How I wish on just one of those nights, I'd had a tape recorder or kept a journal, as I did on my trip around the world.

  • Phil Knight expresses regret for not recording or journaling the early conversations and moments that shaped his company, emphasizing the value of preserving such memories.

Business Lessons from History

  • The podcast draws parallels between historical business anecdotes and Knight's experiences.
  • The story of Henry Ford and the Dodge brothers is used to illustrate the importance of maintaining control over one's business endeavors.

Doesn't repeat, but human nature does. And we've drawn parallels through all different books, in some cases separated by hundreds of years.

  • This quote suggests that while specific historical events may not repeat, the behaviors and tendencies of people, especially in business, tend to recur over time.

The Birth of Nike

  • Knight's decision to create his own shoe brand, Nike, was a response to challenges with his Japanese supplier, Onitsuka.
  • The narrative emphasizes the importance of independence and self-reliance in business.

So in other words, I said... We are still alive. So that happens in the 70s.

  • Phil Knight describes the pivotal moment when he and his team decide to focus on their own brand, Nike, after being cut off by their main supplier, marking a significant turning point in the company's history.

Nike's Growth and IPO

  • The discussion touches on Nike's innovative designs, athlete endorsements, and the company's successful IPO, which coincided with Apple's.
  • The narrative highlights the transformation of Nike from a distributor of another brand to a leading global brand with significant cultural impact.

So they just made a transition. So the reason I bring that up now is because for most of the, let's say the first, what is this, eight years of blue ribbon?

  • This quote traces the evolution of Nike from its early days as a distributor to its emergence as an independent brand, culminating in its IPO.

Reflections and Regrets

  • Phil Knight shares his personal reflections and regrets, particularly regarding the balance between work and family life.
  • The podcast discusses the broader implications of Knight's experiences for entrepreneurs and individuals seeking fulfillment in their careers.

Of course, above all, I regret not spending more time with my sons.

  • Phil Knight's quote expresses his deep regret over not spending more time with his family, a sentiment that resonates with many successful individuals reflecting on their life choices.

Entrepreneurial Insights and Advice

  • Knight offers advice to aspiring entrepreneurs, emphasizing the pursuit of a calling rather than just a career.
  • The narrative acknowledges the challenges entrepreneurs face and the importance of resilience and adaptability.

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.

  • Phil Knight advises young individuals to seek a deeper purpose in their professional lives, suggesting that this approach can lead to greater satisfaction and resilience in the face of challenges.

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