Teens May Learn from Nike Founder’s Memoir

Kyle Flett, Staff Writer

What is the best way to stand out from your competition?

Phil Knight, creator of company Blue Ribbon, now known as Nike, explains how he rose to the top of the footwear industry in his autobiography Shoe Dog.

Knight provides information about shifting your own perspective and reevaluating your situation, which really stuck with me. Whenever he was feeling defeated, he would analyze the people he respected and looked up to, and remember the mantras that stuck with him.

As an athlete, it can be very difficult to deal with setbacks or failure, and Shoe Dog takes a competitive athlete’s perspective and applies it to the real world. This was meaningful for me because it makes what is the book’s apparently distant advice applicable to my day to day life.

From a crazy idea in 1962, Knight depicts his journey from bottom to top, along with the company’s series of near-disaster situations. But the book is not a depiction of success after success for the young company, as I had expected; Knight recounts crisis-averted-type moments as he struggles to pay back loan after loan and fend off attacks from other companies and even a lawsuit against the United States Federal Government.

Knight is always quick to remind readers that his background and his life experience lies in running. Although I am a runner and I can relate well to the struggles he describes, you don’t need to run to understand how he feels at certain points in life. In this vein, I think the book is told in a very approachable manner, providing general life insight that can help students and prospective entrepreneurs alike.

Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you” was Knight’s mantra. In his mind, he was not an exceptional leader or a motivational speaker, he was just some guy, finding people with incredible talents to help him attain a dream. He didn’t want to micromanage or control; he wanted to let people do great things by giving them freedom.

Teachers at Campolindo might be surprised to learn that openness to invention and creativity does not hinder but rather encouraged excellence in young people such as Knight’s artistic employees or high school students.

Another repeatedly referenced quote in the book was from General MacArthur: “You are remembered for the rules you break.” At first I thought Knight meant to reference this quote at face value (and he probably did.) However, by the time Blue Ribbon became the company Nike, the “rules” became more metaphorical.

Knight wanted his shoes to be innovative and ahead of their time. He wanted to challenge conventional thinking and create shoes that pushed the boundaries of human performance; the rules he wanted to break were self-imposed, like the idea of not being able to cross the 4-minute mile threshold.

Overall, I found Shoe Dog a surprisingly good read for runners and non-runners alike. It was straightforward and clearly written, yet also insightful because it takes the perspective of a freethinker who grows up over the course of the story. It is especially a good read for high schoolers, as it gives a perspective both of the interworkings of a company many know and love and because it gives a snapshot of what life can look like post-high school.