Four Billion-Dollar Lessons I Learned From Reading a $3 Book

Pearls of wisdom taken from Nike’s founder, Phillip Knight.

Sumit Garg
Aug 5 · 5 min read

It’s true, good books are great mentors.

‘Shoe Dog’, Phil Knight’s memoir about creating Nike, is exactly one such book. “It’s a refreshingly honest reminder of what the path to business success really looks like,” says Bill Gates. Today, Nike is one of the most valuable sports brands in the world, with sales that top $39 billion.

“God, how I wish I could relive the whole thing,” admits Knight, as he attempts to explain what might have inspired him to share his extraordinary journey with us.

“Short of that,” he adds, “I’d like to share the experience, the ups and downs, so that some young man or woman, somewhere, going through the same trials and ordeals, might be inspired or comforted. Or warned. Some young entrepreneur, some athlete or painter or novelist, might press on.”

In the final pages of the book, the billionaire businessman and co-founder of Nike summarizes his experience in the form of some invaluable business advice that also doubles as life lessons.

1. Keep looking until you find what you love.

Knight says, “I’d tell men and women in their mid-twenties not to settle for a job or a profession or even a career.” And instead, “Seek a calling. Even if you don’t know what that means, seek it.”

Knight goes on to explain the logic behind his reasoning, “If you’re 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.” He wants us to hit pause, think long and hard about how we want to spend our time, and with whom we want to spend it for the next forty-odd years.

While reading his advice, I was also reminded of Steve Jobs’ famous commencement address at Stanford. Jobs says,

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. So keep looking until you find it.”

You’ve got to pay attention when the world’s most successful businessmen recommend something that could turn out to be against their own interests. After all, these men need employees to run their factories and not entrepreneurs who will go on to compete with them.

In short, take time to figure out what you want to do with your life, especially early on in your careers. Don’t rush to settle with a job or a career for all the wrong reasons just to regret it for the rest of your life.

2. Know that someone will always try to pull you down.

“I’d like to warn the best of them, the iconoclasts, the innovators, the rebels,” writes Knight, “that they will always have a bulls-eye on their backs. The better they get, the bigger the bulls-eye.”

Knight says, “It’s not one man’s opinion; it’s a law of nature.” And he’s right. People will always try to pull you down. And while it does mean you’re well above them, it also means you’re in a race.

You’ll become a target. Try not to be an easy one. Keep moving forward.

3. Sometimes giving up is the right thing to do.

Alongside this statement, he insists upon delivering the hard truth rather than providing us with a false sense of hope and admiration about carrying on even when things clearly don’t appear to work out.

He writes, “Sometimes you have to give up. Sometimes knowing when to give up, when to try something else, is genius. Giving up doesn’t mean stopping. Don’t ever stop.”

How often do you come across advice that says it’s alright to give up and try something else? Almost never. So let this be your cue. Do not try to force an outcome or remain stuck when you know it’s time to move on and try something different.

4. It may still be ‘luck’ that decides the outcome.

I recently read ‘Fooled By Randomness’, by Nasim Nicholas Taleb. It’s about the hidden role of chance in our everyday lives and business. In one of my favorite sentences from the book, the author says,

On the contrary, Knight was quick to admit that luck plays a big role. “Yes, I’d like to publicly acknowledge the power of luck,” he says. “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.”

So work hard and have faith. And luck will find you.

Uncover Your Own Lessons

As I said, good books, written by great men, are the best mentors in life. And they’re certainly the most accessible. So keep reading, and keep learning.

When I first read Shoe Dog, it was also my first time running a business. Looking back, four years and many lessons later, I realize that the most powerful lessons in life are also the most obvious.

  1. Don’t settle until you find what you love. Pursue your calling and let it guide you.
  2. People will try to bring you down. Accept that, and use it as motivation to keep pushing forward.
  3. Sometimes it’s just better to give up. Staying aboard a sinking ship isn’t noble, it’s suicide. Know when to jump off and try again. If something isn’t working, give it up. Just don’t stop moving.
  4. Hope to attract luck on your journey. Everyone gets lucky, but the harder you work, the luckier you’ll become.

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