03 Mar 2018

Best Quotes From Creator of Nike's Autobiography - Shoe Dog

The best / most valuable quotes from Shoe Dog by Phil Knight, Creator of Nike.

I generally read ~1-2 non-fiction pieces a month, but hate the fact that I never sit down to reflect/write/share them.

This is me doing that :)


Let’s be clear: this book was phenomenal. Humbling. Down-to-earth. Modest. It’s just you and Phil, having a chat.

Let’s get down to the best parts.

The Bigger & Better You Get, the Bigger the Bulls-eye

“I’d like to warn the best of them, the iconoclasts, the innovators, the rebels, that they will always have a bull’s-eye on their backs. The better they get, the bigger the bull’s-eye…It’s a law of nature.”

Phil takes you in the trenches of developing Nike — best summed up as being on the brink of financial crisis for 5+ years straight, and dealing with all the shit that comes with that:

  • Disapproval from parents (his dad asking him when he’d stop “jackassing around with his shoe business”)
  • Being screwed over by bank loan officers
  • Disdain from successful friends
  • Dealing with being sued and screwed over by your own partnering company
  • Dealing with giant companies employing sneaky tactics to put you under

We’re all born with an innate desire to please/seek approval from someone - parents, friends, Indian aunts, whatever. It seems to me, becoming the best of them, whether that’s a civil rights advocate or an entrepreneur, starts with giving a giant middle finger to the approval (or more often, lack thereof) of others.

It also seems to me, that becoming the best of them involves:

A) Acknowledging that shit is going to come your way - from death threats, to lawsuits, to people hating your guts B) Being okay with that, because, whatever purpose you serve is more important than that.

What a phenomenal lesson.

“The cowards never started and the weak died along the way. That leaves us, ladies and gentlemen. Us.”

At the same time…

Curb Your Ego

“Luck plays a big role. Yes, I’d like to publicly acknowledge the power of luck. Athletes get lucky, poets get lucky, businesses get lucky.

Some people might not call it luck. They might call it Tao, or Logos, or Jñāna, or Dharma. Or Spirit. Or God.

Put it this way. The harder you work, the better your Tao. Have faith in yourself, but also have faith in faith. Not faith as other defines it. Faith as you define it. Fatih as faith defines itself in your heart.”

Advice to Milennials

“God, how I wish I could relive the whole thing. Short of that, I’d like to share the experience, the ups and downs, so that some young man or woman, somewhere, going through the same trials and ordeals, might be inspired or comforted. Or warned. Some young entrepreneur, maybe, some athlete or painter or novelist, might press on.

It’s all the same drive. The same dream.

It would be nice to help them avoid the typical discouragements. I’d tell them to hit pause, think long and hard about how they want to spend their time, and with whom they want to spend it for the next forty years. 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. Even if you don’t know what that means, seek it. If you’re following your calling, the fatigue will be easier to bear, the disappointments will be fuel, the highs will be like nothing you’ve ever felt.

Belief Is Irresistible

“Driving back to Portland I’d puzzle over my sudden success at selling. 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. Belief, I decided. Belief is irresistible.

Doubt & Hating Your Circumstances Are Part of the Game

“More than once, over my first cup of coffee in the morning, or while trying to fall asleep at night, I’d tell myself: maybe I’m a fool? Maybe this whole damn shoe thing is a fool’s errand?

Michelangelo was miserable while painting [the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel]. His back and neck ached. Paint fell constantly into his hair and eyes. He couldn’t wait to be finished, he told his friends.”

On Confidence

“Confidence. More than equity, more than liquidity, that’s what a man needs. I wished I had more. I wished I could borrow some. But confidence was cash. You had to have some to get some. And people were loath to give it to you.”

You Either Seek a Calling or You Don’t

“But deep down I was searching for something else, something more. I had an aching sense that our time here is short, shorter than we ever know, short as a morning run, and I wanted mine to be meaningful. And purposeful. And creative. and important. Above all … different. I wanted to leave a mark on the world.”

“The cowards never started and the weak died along the way. That leaves us, ladies and gentlemen. Us.”

On Management

“Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.”

Train Yourself to Overlook Your Limits

“I thought back on my running career at Oregon. I’d competed with, and against, men far better, faster, more physically gifted. Many were future Olympians. And yet I’d trained myself to forget this unhappy fact.

People reflexively assume that competition is always a good thing, that it always brings out the best in people, but that’s only true of people who can forget the competition.

The art of competing, I’d learned from track, was the art of forgetting, and I now reminded myself of that fact. You must forget your limits. You must forget your doubts, your pain, your past.


“Pre was most famous for saying, “Somebody may beat me—but they’re going to have to bleed to do it.”

Watching him run that final weekend of May 1975, I’d never felt more admiration for him, or identified with him more closely.

Somebody may beat me, I told myself, some banker or creditor or competitor may stop me, but by God they’re going to have to bleed to do it.”

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– Neha