The Messy, Perilous Journey: Why You Must Read "Shoe Dog"

By Jason Lesh, Managing Principal


An autobiography ended up on my living room coffee table a few weeks ago – halfway home on its journey from a friend who had borrowed it and its rightful owner.

Between planning for a kitchen remodel, late-night work emails and my son’s countless baseball games and practices, I for some reason picked it up to skim the first couple of pages. Forty-eight hours later at 1:30am on a Thursday night (morning?) I had finished it.

Shoe Dog is the memoir by Phil Knight about the founding and creation of what eventually became Nike and it is the best book I’ve read in a long time. Buy it. Then read it.

I could talk for hours about the book (email me and we can discuss). The lessons. The travails. The mistakes. The luck. The naiveté. The moments when success and failure were separated by an inch. What stood out most about his retelling of the path from his initial $50 investment (borrowed from his dad, no less) to the eventual IPO and success 16 years later was his brutal honesty.

As Bill Gates wrote, the true path of a successful entrepreneur is “a messy, perilous, and chaotic journey riddled with mistakes, endless struggles, and sacrifice.” A great idea doesn’t hurt. A succinct strategy sure helps. A battle-tested team with a track record of success increases the odds. But life isn’t usually like that. And few businesses, regardless of what their founders say, are like that either.

I’ve long been of the opinion that emotional intelligence (EQ) is one of the hardest skills to acquire. But with it, it’s a heck of a lot easier to admit what you don’t know. And ask for help. And seek out mentors, advisors, and people smarter than yourself. To share your dream with others and then trust they can help you figure out how to execute it. Phil Knight’s EQ is on full display throughout the founding of Nike and in his candor retelling the story some 50+ years later.

Admittedly, perspective and self-reflection comes with time. But honesty with yourself, and true vulnerability with those in your closest of circles is a powerful combination. The results can be astounding. And more importantly, as Knight concludes, the journey becomes a hell of a lot of fun.