Shoe Dog Book Review: A Memoir from the Creator of Nike, Phil Knight

Hey folks, Josh here from Solopreneur Grind back for another book review and key takeaways – let’s jump in:

Today we’re going to be doing a book review of Shoe Dog – the memoir by Phil Knight who is the creator of Nike.

Of course Nike is a big, successful company but some people like me didn’t even know the founder’s name until he wrote this incredible book.

The book is about 375 pages so definitely not a short read but also not a long read and the version that I got is the soft cover which was a good size in terms of being able to hold it, lie in bed, etc.

Overall I really loved the book and I’ll go into my three key takeaways in just a second, but I’ve read it at least two times already – might even have been three times – over the last few years.

Shoe Dog is a memoir, meaning it’s written in Phil’s perspective and one of the many reasons why I really enjoyed it is the fact that it’s very personal. He starts from the very beginning, early on in his life, and covers almost every aspect that you can think of. It’s a true tale of grit and determination more than anything, which I’ll talk about more, but Phil goes into really extreme detail on the entire journey from start to finish of starting a business so I think it gives a really good perspective on everything.

Now let’s get into my three key takeaways from reading Shoe Dog by Phil Knight:

Lesson #1: There is no playbook to success in business

Key takeaway number one is that there is no playbook to success in business and what I mean by that is: yes you can go get degrees, yes you can read books, yes you can watch youtube videos.

But ultimately when it comes to building a business from scratch and growing it to the level that Phil did, it’s not something you can simply read or watch and pick up and have a rosy path to success. The reason why I say this, especially as it was described in the book by Phil, is there are so many ups and downs in business and especially in his case, so many scenarios where he just got either unlucky or an unfortunate event happened, and he had to just figure it out.

There was not necessarily someone he could talk to that had been through that exact scenario before. Of course he was surrounded by good people, which we’ll talk about, but who could help him and guide him to make the decision for that particular event or moment.

A lot of times he just had to make a decision based on his gut, and hope for the best.

A big event that sticks out from the book was when he was picking the name “Nike”. The company didn’t actually start out with that name, they were going through a rebranding and the company had been debating and arguing and thinking about a different name to start with their new brand for weeks and weeks and weeks.

Ultimately it came down to about a one minute decision where Phil had to make the decision and call in the new name to the company that was going to produce a big patch of shoes for them.

Nike was one of the options they were considering and he just went with his gut and picked Nike at the last moment.

So what I’m trying to say here is definitely do your research, do your learning, your education, all that stuff.

But also realize if you’re going to go through the journey of starting and growing a big business, there are going to be uncertainties and difficult times and difficult decisions to make – and that’s okay.

You just have to get comfortable with making those decisions, sticking with them and moving forward.

Lesson #2: Hire great people even if you don’t have a job for them

The second key takeaway that I took from Shoe Dog and Phil Knight is to hire great people even if you don’t know what job they’re going to do.

The reason I say this is there were multiple times over Phil’s career and the life of Nike where he just had a really good feeling, or was really convinced about a person, or was really impressed by a person and hired them even though they weren’t necessarily hiring for a particular position or knew what role that person person was going to do.

The first example is actually his wife. He hired his future wife when she was actually one of his students because he was teaching college courses in accounting and he had a crush on her. But he was extremely impressed by the grades she was getting in his class so he hired her part-time to start doing random things around the office like bookkeeping.

She was so good at what she did that she ended up really excelling in the company and obviously went on to raise his family, which is a slightly different story, but an example of him being partially impressed and partially attracted to – in this case – somebody who he hired/

This example happened multiple times throughout the book, like with a previous accountant he worked with at another firm or when Nike was going through a court case and he was working very closely with one of the new young lawyers at the firm.

He became so close with that lawyer and liked him so much he ended up hiring him. They didn’t necessarily need in-house legal counsel but he was so impressed and liked working with this person so much that they decided to hire him, and a lot of these people ended up flourishing in whatever role that Phil gave them.

Ultimately Phil’s approach seemed to be – at least as summarized in this book – to hire great, smart, motivated people and find ways for them to be successful.

Lesson #3: Grit and determination trump everything else

My last key takeaway from Shoe Dog kind of relates to the first lesson a bit, but what I learned is that probably the most important factor when you’re an entrepreneur or solopreneur trying to grow a successful business is that grit and determination probably trump everything else.

Having experience, being very smart, having big ideas or passions – that’s all important. But if Phil was anything, it was full of grit, determination and not being willing to give up.

I’ve noticed after reading a lot of  biographies and autobiographies of successful solopreneurs and entrepreneurs that above all else, grit and determination seem to be some of the most common characteristics because:

  • things will get tough
  • competitors will pop up
  • difficulties will come

These are guarantees.

And sometimes, all you have to do – all you can do- is be able to put your head down, keep working, look after yourself, look after your family, look after your employees – but keep pushing forward to find a way.

It’s almost unbelievable what you or your company or your colleagues can do if you just refuse to give up and keep pushing.


Overall, I highly recommend reading Shoe Dog by Phil Knight. It’s become one of my favourite books from the last few years and if you are an entrepreneur or you want to become an entrepreneur or solopreneur, you like reading stories about people – especially people in business – I think you’ll really enjoy the book.

If you like this review and want more of my business, solopreneur and book content, make sure to sign up for my daily business email too – you can learn more and join here!

Thanks for reading

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