I love Nikes. And not only because these are quality products. I love them because they represent not only a brand but a lifestyle. When you wear Nikes, you feel that you are one of these cool people from ads who are all fit and with healthy lifestyle. After reading “Shoe Dog” by Phil Knight, I love Nikes even more. Because now I know that it was not only about selling shoes and marketing a lifestyle. It was about so much more – mainly, about making running a cult and creating a running culture all around the world.
About Crazy Idea
Phil Knight was a regular university student with an average life of a 22-year old teen. He did not know what he wanted to do, but he got this crazy idea out of his university project to import the running shoes from Japan. And so he had the guts to go to Japan and find his supplier. So it all started. And it never ended until this day, because for Knight it was a true calling he was fighting for:
“..I’d tell young people not to settle for a job or a profession or even a career. Seek a calling. Even if you do not know what that means, seek it. If you are following your calling, the fatigue will be easier to bear, the disappointments will be fuel, the highs will be like nothing you’ve ever felt”.
Throughout his whole story, you will have a chance to see that disappointments were actually a fuel for Knight’s team and there were a lot of them – the supplier who decided to stop the contract and Knight trying to find another one within weeks, the fight with the US government, the lawsuits, the continuous struggle for cash, going public and so much more. But as Knight said “there is nowhere to go from here but up”. And Nike always went up struggling behind the scenes but with time becoming the first shoe company to start doing business in China and beating their long-standing competitor Adidas that was dominating the market for years. How did they do it? It was more than a job, it was a calling and it was a culture that they wanted to spread and share. They believed in a crazy idea that went above selling shoes.
“We were trying to create a brand, I said, but also a culture. We were fighting against conformity, against boringness, against drudgery. More than a product, we were trying to sell an idea – a spirit”.
Brand as Identity
Before Seth Godin published his well-known “Purple Cow” and “Linchpin”, Nike was already doing it since 1970s. They were among the first ones to promote not a product but the idea and they succeeded.
Was it someone’s genius idea that came overnight? Many years of trial and error until they got there, but they did. And now, the top athletes around the world are crushing races and winning Wimbledon in Nikes. Because they believe in the same idea. Well, they are also paid for it, but…!
What I love about Knight’s attitude is again that for him, it was not only signing athletes to promote his products. He went to all the races, he lived through all the important championships, he made close friends with athletes and they felt like a family together. A moving moment from the book is when Knight’s son died, a lot of athletes visited and called him first thing in the morning.
For Knight, Nikes have been about sport, and sport has been about connecting athletes and fans in one whole and living the moments of success and failure together:
“When sports are at their best, the spirit of the fan merges with the spirit of the athlete, and in that convergence, in that transference, in the oneness that the mystics talk about”.
Nike is not scared of failure, they crave it to become better and they crave to fail fast. The faster they fail as a small company when they are starting, the faster they will learn and implement the “hard-won” lessons in their future:
“Not any of us thought we wouldn’t fail; in fact, we had every expectation that we would. But when we did fail, we had faith that we’d do it fast, learn from it, and be better for it”.
“If we are going to succeed or fail, we should do so on our own terms, with our own ideas – our own brand”.
And they did fail, many times. They failed when trying to go public for the first time and did not manage to sell their shares. It was devastating. But a few years later, they went public with the same price per share as Apple and they raised over 150 million over night. So fail fast…
Knight mentions that for many years for Nike it was important to beat brands that were already dominating on the market such as Adidas or New Balance. But as the company evolved so did their view on competition. And all of us have probably heard it in different variations many times, but let me repeat it here:
“Beating the competition is relatively easy. Beating yourself is a never-ending commitment”
So Many Smart Quotes…
well here is another one from the book that I also love…
“Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results”
In short, if you have a chance, grab a copy of this book. You will see how complex and never ending fight for a crazy idea can create a brand, a culture and a spirit and how difficult but at the same time rewarding the path to business success can be like.
Did you know that the name “Nike” comes from Greek and means “victory”? Well, Nike definitely won me over.
So I am going to go put my Nikes on and go for a run.