Wearing my cool Nike shoes on a pier in Santa Monica. This is real life ppl.

Innovation is a glamourised term. It's what our dads say to us as we're watching an Apple commercial, it is the agent of millennial hype and the attribute we imagine dripping out of the water cooler in Google's HQ. Innovation is associated with the future, and closely tied to creativity, as together they propel the world's biggest brands forward in the fields of technology and design.

Deemed by Forbes as the most valuable brand in sports, worth $31.76 billion, Nike strives "to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world." As of 2016, there were 70,700 Nike employees, and if we can stop being jealous about the fact that they probably all wear cool shoes, we can appreciate the might and eminence of this leading sports apparel company. Their worldwide revenue totalled 32.38 billion last year, aided by some of the leading athletes sponsored by the brand - Simone Biles, Christiano Ronaldo, and Michael Jordan.   

It's rare to reach that level of market dominance in any business, so how did a single man, originally importing Tiger shoes (now known as Asics) to his parents garage, land above the averages? Failure and perseverance - these two things form a short checklist, one I shortly wrote down after I finished reading Shoe Dog, a memoir by the creator of Nike, Phil Knight. 

"Starting my own business was the only thing that made life's other risks - marriage, Vegas, alligator wrestling - seem like sure things," Knight reflects. "But 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. I wasn't much for setting goals, but this goal kept flashing through my mind every day, until it became my internal chant: Fail fast." It might be harsh to classify this book as a collection of failures, or it might be amazing. Knight first travelled to Japan, after selling encyclopaedias in Haw⇾⇾aii for a while, and found a new kind of shoe that he thought would do well in the American market. So, with the only suit in his tramping pack, he struck a deal with a Japanese supplier. 

Knight's sales, exchanged in the boot of a car, grossed $8,000 in his first year. From there, it was a painful and slow process: placing orders for shoes that never came, dealing with other suppliers competing illegally in the market, and investing all profits directly back into the company, driving growth but angering bankers who longed to see physical assets. 

Throughout the story, though, money doesn't seem to be the main motivator, and 'business' the fitting definition. Knight sacrificed personally and professionally, and maintains an admirable level of vulnerability throughout the book. "I redefined winning, expanded it beyond my original definition of not losing, of merely staying alive. That was no longer enough to sustain me, or my company," he says.  "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."

Blue Ribbon Sports, as Knight's company was originally called, came from a place of passion for running and love of the sport. Knight made a handshake deal with Bill Bowerman, track and field coach, to help found this unconventional dream, tied together by their desire for change, but mostly their intense competitiveness. "I didn't like to lose, at anything, losing for me was a special form of agony," Knight says. Bowerman was the creative end of the company, and spent too much time tampering with shoe design. He's the guy that used a waffle iron to create Nike's first running shoe (remember?). 

Oh and another thing, if you're going to start the next billion dollar enterprise, you'll have to be able to problem solve your way out of anything, literally anything. A few years on, Knight changed the name of the company to Nike, the greek goddess of victory, and paid a designer $35 to create the iconic swish to slap on their shoes. They were making enough revenue in sales, but remained as a private company, still with the cash flow issue of having almost enough to buy a kebab in the bank (i.e. a meagre amount). So when a letter arrives announcing that Nike owes the government $25 million for breaching an old duty-assessing law, it's upsetting - it's a 'meltdown, request flowers, and ring my mum' kind of day. 

Knight got through it. "Fear of failure, I thought, will never be our downfall as a company. Not that any of us thought we wouldn't fail; in fact we had every expectation that we would," he reflects. "But when we did fail, we had faith that we'd do it fast, learn from it, and be better for it." This book is a remarkable progression down the path most people don't take, and a lengthy notification that circumstances are almost never the way you want them to be. Knight's surroundings throughout most of the book did not project high earnings or global impact, but something that his story taught me was that circumstances are fluid and they do not lessen your potential

It's unknown, success is not guaranteed, but in a way, it always is. To serve is victory, to contribute is to win, to make life better for people is the attainment of triumph. Knight says: "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? Maybe, I thought. Maybe."

Maybe, just maybe, things will work out.

Mads xx


  1. This is so encouraging, and in line with my philosophy of embracing failure, with all of its amazing lessons, with open arms. I love that he is so dedicated to helping people, not the money or numbers as most businesses are. Thanks for this! I really want to read his book now lol.

    1. Thanks for the comment! SO worth the read. 🙌

  2. Wow! This is so awesome! Thank you for sharing :)

  3. Now Nike Shox has become a relatively mature product type, the technology of Shox is related with cushioning, or shock absorption. Besides, the cushion set in the midsoles of the sports shoes, like a spring, will spring the runner back and add more power to him or her.
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