The definition of an idea, as defined by Webster’s Dictionary, is something you imagine in your mind; an opinion or belief; a thought, plan, or solution on what to do. Ideas present challenges in the sense that people can have ideas which are great in their minds, yet some of the same people who originate the ideas allow their own doubt to keep them from manifesting into something tangible, into something real, into something legendary. One of the themes in Shoe Dog, the memoir written by The Great Phil Knight, is having a crazy idea and having the determination to see the idea come to fruition.
One of the reasons this book is so powerful is because it is so realistic. In the early-1960s, Phil Knight was in his mid-20s and trying to figure out his way through life. He had two parents and two sisters who loved him deeply. He graduated from college, experienced the college life as a student athlete and, seemingly, had his entire life ahead of him. Despite having a loving family, despite finishing college, and despite building relationships along the way in college, there was so much more that Knight wanted to do, needed to do, and felt obligated to do. In a sense, he felt he had to give something back to the universe and that sparked his curiosity to travel the world and put his Crazy Idea into the universe with the hopes that his Crazy Idea could turn into a crazy reality.
Knight didn’t so much sell us a product as much as he sold his idea and his vision. It started during the trip overseas, continued upon his return to the United States, moved along as he visited with his former college track coach, meandered as packages of athletic shoes would show up at his parents’ house with one of the rooms serving as his unofficial headquarters as he continued to turn his Crazy Idea into a crazy reality. There were plenty of challenges along the way, challenges which were magnified by some of his own admitted missteps. He writes about plenty of the people who played a role in helping shape, mold and magnify the Crazy Idea into a crazy reality. There were people with similar vision, people who all contributed to what eventually became Nike, and even though his name is the most prominent when the general public thinks of Nike, Knight never takes credit in the book for the successes and was always prepared to admit his missteps and shortcomings when things didn't go well. It is aselfless examination for the birth of a phenomenon.
Knight constantly praises the people who helped nurture his Crazy Idea and held steady to his beliefs about what he wanted Nike to become; even when he was unsure about what to do or how to do it, he was secure enough to trust other people and their areas of expertise to contribute to what was going on throughout the mid-to-late 1960s and throughout the 1970s. The book paints a vivid picture of Oregon and the people in the book who prided themselves on being from Oregon. For someone who has never visited, he writes stories about his home in a way that make readers feel as if they are right there in the midst of the place he loves.
The book illustrates his willingness to work with other people while maintaining the identity that the company needed to have in order to separate themselves from the pack. The tone of the book is competition, but it is competition in a pure, authentic form. Phil Knight was a college athlete, and some of the people he surrounded himself with were athletes as well. Their approach to making their company the best of the best, while going up against the giants of the day like Adidas and Puma, was competition in its organic form: outwork the competition, out-think the competition, put out a better product than the competition and become so great that, eventually, there is no competition.
The stories about Knight and his partners doing business with local banks and entities overseas also lend a very heavy dose of reality to the book for entrepreneurs. Everything was not, in the words of Randy Galloway, sunshine and daffodils. The company didn’t make money for years, and there were plenty of times when it seemed like the entire operation was a hair away from shutting down. Other shoe companies came for Nike’s head: domestic as well as international and they were even in the radar of the U.S. Government. Thanks to communication, determination, understanding, and quite a bit of luck, Knight and his cohorts continued to find ways to survive until they eventually thrived.
Shoe Dog explores the family/work life balance. It examines the obstacles which surely await start-up companies. It delves into the complicated, yet necessary, art of communication and non-communication as well as establishing, building and cultivating culture within an organization with people from all walks of life. Shoe Dog is a work of art, an honest assessment and an inspiring look at having a vision, a vision that no amount of rain, snow, or sleet could stop from making a Crazy Idea come to reality.