Yesterday, I finished reading Phil Knight’s memoirs, Shoe Dog. I’m a sucker for good biographies and memoirs, and this was easily the best one I’ve read since Jeannette Walls’s The Glass Castle. If you like the How I Built This podcast, Shoe Dog is a deeper and even more satisfying tale of how a giant business was built.
Phil Knight ran for the legendary Bill Bowerman at Oregon, an experience which sparked his interest in running shoes. Bowerman co-founded Blue Ribbon, Nike’s predecessor, with Knight, and the company spent years as the distributor of Onitsuka’s shoes in the western US. Like many of the stories on How I Built This, Knight’s journey from small-business owner to the billionaire CEO of Nike was far less linear than I expected. His experience reinforced the importance of surrounding yourself with people who believe in the same mission you do and having a bit of luck.
I can’t recommend this book highly enough. The writing is a lot better than most memoirs, and it’s evident that Knight spent a lot of time introspecting to tell as honest a story as possible. Thinking about Shoe Dog and Knight, I’m reminded of Eliezer Yudkowsky’s post “Competent Elites”. A stereotype some people might have of powerful corporate executives is that they’re good at playing “the game”, but aren’t necessarily much smarter than the average person—just more charming. Yudkowsky’s argument is that, surprisingly, people in these positions are often much more thoughtful (and happy!) than we might expect given pop culture stereotypes. That was my impression from Knight as well. He is a deep thinker that has thought carefully about how to spend time and how someone can live a meaningful life working for a shoe company. I’ve already thought about the book a lot when I haven’t been reading it, and I’m certain I’ll remember it often throughout my career.