Quotes from Shoe Dog by Phil Knight

Posted on 2/1/2020, 2:10:08 PM

“History is one long processional of crazy ideas. The things I loved most – books, sports, democracy, free enterprise – started as crazy ideas. For that matter, few ideas are as crazy as my favorite thing, running. It’s hard. It’s painful. It’s risky. The rewards are few and far from guaranteed. When you run around an oval track, or down an empty road, you have no real destination. At least, none that can fully justify the effort. The act itself becomes the destination. It’s not just that there’s no finish line; it’s that you define the finish line. Whatever pleasures or gains you derive from the act of running, you must find them within. It’s all in how you frame it, how you sell it to yourself.” (5)


“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.”



“Of course, General MacArthur was deeply flawed. But he knew that. You are remember, he said, prophetically, for the rules you break.”



“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.”



“Starting my own business was the only thing that made life’s other risks – marriage, Vegas, alligator wrestling – seem like sure things.”



“I told myself: Life is growth. You grow or you die.”



“Yes, I thought. 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.”



“It was us against the world, and we felt damned sorry for the world. That is, when we weren’t righteously pissed off at it. Each of us had been misunderstood, misjudged, dismissed. Shunned by bosses, spurned by luck, rejected by society, shortchanged by fate when looks and other natural graces were handed out. We’d each been forged by early failure. We’d each given ourselves to some quest, some attempt at validation or meaning, and fallen short.”



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



“I still didn’t believe in the power of advertising. At all. A product, I thought, speaks for itself, or it doesn’t. In the end, it’s only quality that counts.”



“Penny and I decided to buy a bigger house. It was a strange thing to do, in the midst of an apocalyptic fight with the government. But I liked the idea of acting as if things were going to work out. Fortune favors the brave, that sort of thing. I also liked the idea of a change of scenery. May, I thought, it will initiate a change of luck.”



“There’s no shoe school, no University of Footwear from which we could recruit. We needed to hire people with sharp minds, that was our priority, and accountants and lawyers had at least proved that they could master a difficult subject. And pass a big test. Most had also demonstrated basic competence. When you hired an accountant, you knew he or she could count. When you hired a lawyer, you knew he or she could talk. When you hired a marketing expert, or product developer, what did you know? Nothing. You couldn’t predict what he or she could do, or if he or she could do anything. And the typical business school graduate? He or she didn’t want to start out with a bag selling shoes. Plus, they all had zero experience, so you were simply rolling the dice based on how well they did in an interview. We didn’t have enough margin for error to roll the dice on anyone.”




“For some, I realize, business is the all-out pursuit of profits, period, full stop, but for us business was no more about making money than being human is about making blood. Yes, the human body needs blood. It needs to manufacture red and white cells and platelets and redistribute them evenly, smoothly, to all the right places, on time, or else. But that day-to-day business of the human body isn’t our mission as human beings. It’s a basic process that enables our higher aims, and life always strives to transcend the basic processes of living – and at some point in the late 1970s, I did, too. I redefined winning, expanded it beyond my original definition of not losing, of merely staying alive. That was no longer enough ot sustain me, or my company. We wanted, as all great businesses do, to create, to contribute, and we dared to say so aloud. When you make something, when you improve something, when you deliver something, when you add some new thing or service to the lives of strangers, making them happier, or healthier, or safer, or better, and when you do it all crisply and efficiently, smartly, the way everything should be done but so seldom is – you’re participating more fully in the whole grand human drama. More than simply alive, you’re helping others to live more fully, and if that’s business, all right, call me a businessman. Maybe it will grown on me.” (353)


“I walked out of the room, barely hearing the beeping machines, the laughing nurses, the patient groaning down the hall. I thought of that phrase, It’s just business.” It’s never just business. It never will be. If it ever does become just business, that will mean that business is very bad.” (370)


“I keep thinking of one line in The Bucket List. “You measure yourself by the people who measure themselves by you.”” (370)


“I said simply: “How did you do it?”

I thought I saw the corners of his mouth flicker. A smile? Maybe?

General Giap thought. And thought. “I was,” he said, “a professor of the jungle.”” (376)


“I tell them about the untapped resources, natural and human, that the world has at its disposal, the abundant ways and means to solve its many crises. All we have to do, I tell the students, is work and study, study and work, hard as we can. Put another way: We must all be professors of the jungle.” (377)


“When it came rolling in, the money affected us all. Not much, and not for long, because none of us was ever driven by money. But that’s the nature of money. Whether you have it or not, whether you want it or not, whether you like it or not, it will try to define your days. Our task as human being is not to let it.” (379)


“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 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 high will be like nothing you’ve ever felt.” (382)


“I’d like to remind them that America isn’t the entrepreneurial Shangri-La people think. Free enterprise always irritates the kinds of trolls who live to block, to thwart, to say no, sorry, no. And it’s always been this way. Entrepreneurs have always been outgunned, outnumbered. They’ve always fought uphill, and the hill has never been steeper. America is becoming less entrepreneurial, not more.” (382)


“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, Hard work is critical, a good team is essential, brains and determination are invaluable, but luck may decide the outcome.” (382)


“Put it this way. The harder you work, the better your luck.” (382)



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