Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike isn’t the type of book I usually read, but I was intrigued by this post from John Berardi, cofounder of Precision Nutrition:
Just finished Phil Knight’s Shoe Dog. Even though I regularly work with Nike, I didn’t think I’d like it. Didn’t even want to like it. Ended up loving it.
It’s fascinating, instructive, wise. And so readable. I couldn’t put it down, finding myself snatching moments here and there to consume a few pages. When I started I never thought I’d be posting about it on FB. Here I am…
I picked up a copy the book and found myself hooked. It’s one of those books I couldn’t wait to finish, and yet left me sad when it ended.
A Business Page-Turner
Nike founder and board chairman Phil Knight borrowed $50 from his father and launched a company with one mission: to import low-cost, high-quality shoes from Japan. He knew little about shoes, and even less about Japan, but managed to sell $8,000 of shoes his first year.
You may expect that Knight had a master plan. He didn’t. He stumbled from crisis to crisis. There were times I almost thought, “I could do better than that!” At every turn, Blue Ribbon Sports (which became Nike) faced insurmountable odds. It’s quite the saga.
You’d think that the founding of a company like Nike would be a bore. It’s anything but. I didn’t know a business memoir could be this interesting.
A Spiritual Book
Shoe Dog is also a spiritual book. Knight goes looking for God.
Before I died, became too old or consumed with everyday minutiae, I wanted to visit the planet’s most beautiful and wondrous places. And its most sacred. Of course I wanted to taste other foods, hear other languages, dive into other cultures, but what I really craved was connection with a capital C. I wanted to experience what the Chinese call Tao, the Greeks call Logos, the Hindus call Jñāna, the Buddhists call Dharma. What the Christians call Spirit. Before setting out on my own personal life voyage, I thought, let me first understand the greater voyage of humankind. Let me explore the grandest temples and churches and shrines, the holiest rivers and mountaintops. Let me feel the presence of … God?
Yes, I told myself, yes. For want of a better word, God.
Knight regularly goes to mass, and is clearly on a spiritual quest, but he defines faith differently. “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.”
Shoe Dog reads at times like a modern version of Ecclesiastes. Knight has more than most of us will ever have: business success, riches, reputation, fame, and love. In the end, he’s still confronted with the deepest questions, and still faces the deepest crises, like the death of his son.
It’s a book that raises a lot of spiritual questions, but never quite provides the answers.
A Story of Risk
In general, Knight seems to follow a principle: damn the torpedoes. He rarely takes the safe route, and continually risks everything to build his company.
“As ever, the accountant in me saw the risk, the entrepreneur saw the possibility,” he writes. “So I split the difference and kept moving forward.”
I don’t admire his lack of prudence, although I’m amazed by the results. I am challenged, though, because I sometimes worry about playing it too safe. If Knight risks everything to sell shoes, should I take more risks for the sake of a greater mission?
Just a Good Read
I’m trying to read lighter books at night, and leave the theology and ministry books for daytime. I’m always happy when I find a book like Shoe Dog that’s insightful, entertaining, and a lot of fun.
You may not be the kind of person who reads business memoirs, but give this one a shot. You may be surprised by how much you enjoy it.
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