Book Review: Shoe Dog: A Memoir by Nike’s Big #1 Guy

Shoe Dog
85 / 100

Intro to the Shoe Dog

“Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike” is a book that loosely tells the story of Phil Knight (who we assume is the Shoe Dog), the man behind one of the most recognized brands in the world, Nike. However, while the book has some redeeming qualities, such as providing an entertaining and engaging narrative, it also has a glaring number of obvious flaws.

Shoe Dog’s Opinion of Japan

One of these flaws is Knight’s description of the Japanese business culture. It was woefully simplified, widely inaccurate, and tinted by Shoe Dog’s apparent inability to understand and/or appreciate the nuances of how different cultures, with a more refined history than that of the United States, conduct business.

Shoe Dog’s narrow, culturally biased view disappointed me and left me sad he was not able to get more out of that potentially valuable experience, not necessarily in a business sense, but in the sense that he had the opportunity to experience a truly unique and refined culture for years beyond his business with Japan.

Moreover, while many of my peers shared the book as a guide for aspiring entrepreneurs and business leaders, I found it lacking in substance. It did not provide any real organizational insight or effective management techniques.

Shoe Dog’s Most Highlighted Topic

Sadly, the most highlighted sentence of the book is, “Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results,” which happens to be a primary nurturing technique widely included in courses to prepare elementary education teachers and books written by many for new parents.

So I don’t know if I am more concerned about the lack of practical management techniques in the book or that so many who read the book didn’t already know this basic principle.

In short, anyone looking for practical advice on being a successful entrepreneur or running a successful organization will be disappointed.

I also found Mr. Knight’s willingness to be less than honest in his business dealings and even engage in unethical business practices and then celebrate his success due to his misguided behavior genuinely upsetting.

However, Mr. Knight did not need to do it this way. You can always accomplish what you want without dishonesty and deceit. Mr. Knight’s book would have been far more inspiring had we read how he completed what he did within the best, honest, and ethical business practices.

The book reads like a personal memoir, as it is titled. Namely, a fantasized version of a person’s life loosely based on fact and very high on presenting an image that Mr. Knight hopes we believe. I, for one, am not convinced.

The only part of the book I found genuinely insightful was at the conclusion, where Mr. Knight attempted a poorly crafted version of a humble brag by name-dropping every name most of those interested in athletics probably have heard of and then suggesting the interaction with these stars humbles him.

Unfortunately, his attempt did not come off as humble but as a poorly hidden massive brag that made it clear Mr. Knight hopes we see him as one of our generation’s most “successful” or “influential” people.

It wasn’t pleasant to see the author use this platform to present himself as a larger-than-life figure rather than offer any real insights or lessons from his experiences.

In conclusion, while “Shoe Dog” may be an entertaining and engaging read for those who love Nike, it falls short of providing substantial organizational or managerial insights that apply to other organizations.

Additionally, the author’s tone toward the Japanese business culture saddened me, and his attempts to present himself as a larger-than-life figure were blatant and uncomfortable.

Mr. Knight confesses that, when dissected, it could make a difference in a person’s life, both in business and personal relationships. Mr. Knight states that he is “bad at forgiving,” which probably is the emotions behind much of what drives Mr. Knight to engage in management practices that are not win-win strategies.

He chalks this up to his “born to compete” DNA but has never taken responsibility for seeing human relationships as more important than his desire to win. It is a lonely way to live, no matter how many superstars around you or underlings you have worshipping you.

When we cannot forgive, we tend to lose relationships with the people most likely to help us become the best versions of ourselves.

I cannot recommend this book to anyone looking for practical advice on running a successful organization or seeking a nuanced perspective on cross-cultural business practices.

Still, it might be interesting for someone curious to know what Mr. Knight wants you to believe about the history of Nike.