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The Student News Site of Punahou School

Ka Punahou

The Student News Site of Punahou School

Ka Punahou

‘Just Do It’: What I Learned From the Memoir by the Creator of Nike

Serene Kim ’24

‘Just Do It.’

You probably have encountered this phrase before. The catchy slogan accompanies the familiar Nike swoosh in various advertisements, whether seen on television, paper bags, or T-shirts. However, before I read Shoe Dog—the candid and enthralling memoir by Phil Knight, the creator of Nike—I never realized how fundamental the phrase is to Nike and its history. In fact, Knight’s entire entrepreneurial journey was defined by acting on an idea without dwelling on things that could go wrong. He starts his book with an insight: “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…Half a century later, I believe it’s the best advice—maybe the only advice—any of us should ever give.” 

Despite Knight’s eventual success as the co-founder of Nike, now a billion-dollar company that produces athletic footwear in addition to other apparel, equipment, and accessories, his beginning was surprisingly humble. It all started in 1962 when he came up with what he calls the “Crazy Idea.” For a seminar on entrepreneurship during his final years at university, he researched running shoes and argued that Japanese products could dominate the American market as they once had with cameras. American resentment towards Japan ran rampant at the time, but Knight believed he could turn this idea into reality. Hoping to find a way to sell Japanese-manufactured shoes in the United States, and with a grand plan to travel around the world, he left his hometown of Portland, Oregon with a few thousand dollars. 

Knight recalls when he successfully made an appointment with a shoe factory in Kobe, Japan, to initiate his “Crazy Idea.” In their meeting, one of the executives asked him what company in America he represented. In the spur of the moment, Knight answered, “Gentlemen, I represent Blue Ribbon Sports of Portland, Oregon” when he had nothing close to a business yet, let alone a company (he was a proud recipient of blue ribbons for track in high school). Like this example, the book retells the countless impulsive, risky, unprecedented, and often lucky choices—similar to this one—that Knight made throughout his career. 

Even the logo and company name were created because of luck. Knight had asked a student named Carolyn Davidson, who he had a fortunate encounter with in the hallway when he was teaching at Portland State University, to design the logo. He recalls after seeing the iconic swoosh, “We all agreed [the logo] looked new, fresh, and yet somehow—ancient. Timeless.” As for the company name, Knight was leaning towards Dimension Six when Jeff Johnson, his first full-time employee, called the morning the patent for the name was due. He suggested to Knight a name that had come to him in his dream: Nike, the Greek goddess of victory.

Although Knight played a leading role in building Nike, throughout the book he shows that it took teamwork to arrive to where he is now. Patience and faith, especially in his teammates, were also necessary virtues; had he dismissed Davidson’s revolutionary logo as wacky, or stubbornly put forth his own name for the company (Dimension Six), Nike may not be where it is today. 

A lot of times I feel that it is easier to be independent and work alone since you are left to your own devices and deal with little disagreements or clashing opinions. Knight’s story, however, reminded me of what wonders cooperation and collaboration (and a bit of risk-taking) can create. His life was successful not only because of Nike but because of his close friendships and tight-knit relationships along his entrepreneurial journey. 

Some of my favorite moments in Shoe Dog were when Nike’s members displayed admirable attitudes of resilience and perseverance: qualities that bound them together as a team when each of them, for all their brilliance, had uniquely eccentric personalities. From when the company’s office equaled an old, tattered space adjacent to a loud tavern to when Nike opened its World Headquarters in 1990, Nike’s members stood by Knight as supporters and confidants. A compelling quote sums up how Knight and his colleagues viewed their business venture: “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 add some new thing or service to the lives of strangers, making them happier…you’re participating more fully in the whole grand human drama. More than simply alive, you’re helping others to live more fully…”

At the end of his story, Knight touches upon the shortcomings of his company, which has now become a multinational corporation. One controversy was the sweatshop crisis, which received public attention in the early 1990s with activist Jeff Ballinger’s exposé—highlighting an Indonesian worker working less than the minimum wage—published in Harper’s Magazine. However, as Knight shares in the book, he and Nike’s leaders were able to turn the criticisms into praise by showing efforts to protect workers’ rights, end child labor, and bring transparency into auditing and reinventing the company. In a 1998 speech, Knight announced Nike’s intentions to improve labor practices, and since 2005, Nike has published annual reports about working conditions and wages, resolving the sweatshop scandal. 

Like any big brand, issues regarding ethical labor standards, environmental pollution, and animal welfare remain with Nike. But I learned from Knight’s actions that there is always the chance to address and redeem your failures and turn them into opportunities for improvement. When Knight faced challenges like near-bankruptcy or a takeover, not only did he display grit and tenacity to save his company from collapse, but he went on to revise his former strategies in business. His comment reflects his valuable growth mindset: “If [my company] went bust, I’d have no money, and I’d be crushed. But I’d also have some valuable wisdom, which I could apply to the next business…my hope was that when I failed, if I failed, I’d fail quickly, so I’d have enough time, enough years, to implement all the hard-won lessons.” What intrigued me the most was his determination to fail quickly rather than rejecting failure altogether. Failure to him was a lesson to be learned gratefully, rather than a sign to give up. 

And so the main point boils down to this: if you fail, it’s no big deal. If something doesn’t go as planned, you might use the insights you gained to recreate something even better. Believing that nothing is impossible can change how you view the world and your potential. In an era where traveling across the world—let alone doing business with Japan, with the scars of World War II still fresh—was unheard of, Knight made special memories and valuable experiences abroad that became the basis of his start-up. The book encouraged me to see beyond what society has deemed possible and try to manifest my goals. Sometimes, it’s worth it to act on your passions without worrying about the repercussions; just do it, and let successes and failures guide you on your journey.

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