Blake Snow

content advisor, recognized journalist, bodacious writer-for-hire

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20 things I learned about life and business reading Shoe Dog by the creator of Nike

Phil Knight seemingly had a lot of slick editors to help him write his wonderful book (4/5 stars) on the creation and rise of Nike. But his passion, character, and insightful war stories all ring true. These were my favorite excerpts:

  1. What if there were a way, without being an athlete, to feel what athletes feel? To play all the time, instead of working? Or else to enjoy work so much that it becomes essentially the same thing.
  2. 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.
  3. The Japanese believe climbing Fuji is a mystical experience, a ritual act of celebration, and I was overcome with a desire to climb it, right then. I wanted to ascend into the clouds. I decided to wait, however. I would return when I had something to celebrate.
  4. After shaving, I put on my green Brooks Brothers suit and gave myself a pep talk. You are capable. You are confident. You can do this. You can DO this. Then I went to the wrong place.
  5. 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?
  6. Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.
  7. Lightness, Bowerman believed, directly translated to less burden, which meant more energy, which meant more speed. And speed equaled winning. Bowerman didn’t like to lose. (I got it from him.) Thus lightness was his constant goal.
  8. For fire drills, my mother often tied a rope to the post of my bed and made me use it to rappel out of my second-floor window. While she timed me. What must the neighbors have thought? What must I have thought? Probably this: Life is dangerous. And this: We must always be prepared. And this: My mother loves me.
  9. Driving back to Portland I’d puzzle over my sudden success at selling shoes. 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.
  10. The single easiest way to find out how you feel about someone? Say goodbye.
  11. I struggle to remember. I close my eyes and think back, but so many precious moments from those nights are gone forever. Numberless conversations, breathless laughing fits. Declarations, revelations, confidences. They’ve all fallen into the sofa cushions of time… How I wish, on just one of those nights, I’d had a tape recorder. Or kept a journal.
  12. No matter the sport—no matter the human endeavor, total effort will win people’s hearts. This, I decided, this is what sports are, what they can do. 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, and in that convergence, in that transference, is the oneness that the mystics talk about.
  13. Pre was most famous for saying, “Somebody may beat me—but they’re going to have to bleed to do it.”
  14. Time and again I’d vow to change. Time and again I’d tell myself: I will spend more time with [family]. Time and again I’d keep that promise—for a while. Then I’d fall back to my former routine, the only way I knew. Not hands-off. But not hands-on.
  15. Beating the competition is relatively easy. Beating yourself is a never-ending commitment.
  16. 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.
  17. 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 like so much more.
  18. The cowards never started and the weak died along the way. That leaves us, ladies and gentlemen. Us.
  19. WHEN IT CAME rolling in, the money affected us all. Not much, and not for long, because none of us was ever driven by money. 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.
  20. 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.

See also: My attempt to become a Nike shoe designer