4 life-changing lessons from one of the world’s greatest entrepreneurs

Photo: Kyle Glenn

“To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete* in the world.”

Nike’s mission statement; perfectly encapsulating decades of emotion, heartrending defeat, joyous victory, and an ability to expand the human potential beyond ordinary boundaries.

As a marketing and advertising professional, opinionated narratives with rousing messages always peak my interest. I feel inclined to understand a brands point of view down to the colors used in a logo.

So, I decided it was necessary to read the memoir of Nike’s founder, Phil Knight.

What I discovered was rather enlightening. The book is a quick read, as you will quickly become engrossed in his unique abilities as a storyteller and brutal honesty about the path to creating a successful business from the ground up.

The most surprising details were about Knight as a person. He is a flawed individual, insecure, and an introvert. Knight constantly resorts to nervous ticks in moments of distress including snapping rubber bands against his wrists and wrapping himself in a hug.

Knight often had to operate with extreme desperation, begging multiple banks on multiple occasions to give his business just one more loan.

Not the typical characteristics we would use to define today’s confident, distinguished entrepreneur.

What really drew me into this story is how blatantly human Knight describes his life.

Often, when we read about entrepreneurs who set out to “change the world”, their stories have a fatal hole. They aren’t real. I don’t mean that in the sense of historical inaccuracy, but rather, they portray that the eventual outcome was inevitable all along.

Knight doesn’t abide by the rules of typical entrepreneurial reflections. He doesn’t offer the reader a fast track path to emulate his success, or a how-to checklist of steps. His story is raw. His story is real. And most importantly, he shows us that being an entrepreneur is incredibly difficult.

But in the process of digesting Shoe Dog, and connecting with the experiences that have made him ultra-successful, there are several takeaways that can apply to everyone.

The Road May Trump The Destination

“It wasn’t joy. It wasn’t relief. If I felt anything, it was…regret? Good God, I thought. Yes. Regret. Because I honestly wished I could do it all over again.”

In 1963 Phil Knight borrowed a $50 loan from his father. Today the Nike empire exceeds 30 billion in annual sales.

However, building Nike took time. Knight had to grow the company very slowly, often taking two steps forward and one step back. It wasn’t until nearly 2 years from his first purchase of Japanese running shoes, that he formally started moving in the right direction after joining forces with legendary track coach, Bill Bowerman.

If you latch onto anything from Phil Knights ascent, it has to be his emphasis on the trials and tribulations that define his journey. Despite all of the hardships, sacrifice, and eventual success, Shoe Dog will reveal why many entrepreneurs inevitably fall short.

Savor the ride. It only happens once.

Be Authentic

“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.”

Nike has long had an ingenious knack for selling stories that motivate people, with the product acting as a subsidiary of an overarching motif. Take Nike’s “Find Your Greatness” campaign featuring a heavyset child slowly jogging down a barren concrete path with nothing but a hollowed expression and the surrounding landscape. The reason this commercial resonates with an audience is due to its transparent authenticity.

Knight never sways away from who he is, a feature that is glaringly obvious throughout the book. He stays true to his values, revealing the inner-workings of his mind throughout every decision, ending with the subsequent trajectory of his empire.

Focus on who you are and what you can control. Everything else will fall into place.

Your Supporting Cast Is Everything

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

A pulse courses through Nike that stems from a group of remarkable individuals, not just one man. Shoe Dog introduces you to the beating hearts behind the brand, and the story that will forever define Nike’s personality.

Without his supporting cast, Nike wouldn’t exist.

Phil Knight wanted to call Nike (formerly Blue Ribbon Sports) “Dimension Six”.

He did not believe in advertising and paid an art student $35 to design what would eventually become the most recognizable logo in the world.

His closest employees were mostly outcasts; a former track star dealing with paralysis from a water sport accident, an obese accountant with an aptitude for late night drinking, a salesman who wrote Knight letter after letter of childish discontent- to be fair Knight scarcely responded to his initial requests.

At the core of this story are relationships.

Knight strives to make his parents proud and, above all else, desperately seeks the approval of his father.

Never forget about the people who made you, and supported your ideas along the way.

Just Do It

“So that morning in 1962 I told myself: Let everyone else call your idea crazy . . . just keep going. Don’t stop. Don’t even think about stopping until you get there, and don’t give much thought to where “there” is. Whatever comes, just don’t stop.”

Stop putting “it” off, whatever that may be. To become a great entrepreneur, you cannot make excuses when obstacles arise- there will be many.

Embrace the uncertainty, be bold, follow your passion, and simply put, Just Do It.

This article first appeared on Medium.

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