Who says an old shoe dog can’t teach you new tricks?

A great idea takes time to germinate

Phil Knight, the founder of Nike, first borrowed money in 1962 to import running shoes from Japan. But he very soon realised that the competitive market was already saturated, so he needed to find a new outlet. He and his athletics coach, Bill Bowerman, saw new client opportunity when they visited local track meetings, but it wasn’t until a full ten years later that Nike became a household name. So just how did Phil achieve such incredible success? Having recently read his autobiography, there are three key lessons that really stood out, which I’d like to share with you…

1. Establish credibility and let market research be your guiding light

Sport was an integral part of Knight’s life. As an athlete himself, he made sure that he was in the right place at the right time. He surrounded himself with experts and talked to fellow competitors and experienced coaches to discover the underlying issues with the current offering. He then refined and adapted his products by focusing on the issues rather than numbers and by adopting a trial and error approach to innovation.

2. Build the very best team around you and trust them

As the Nike team grew, they did not fulfil the stereotypical image of athletic prowess. One was in a wheelchair, two were obese and some of them were chain smokers. But Knight believed implicitly in his team’s potential. He adopted a laissez faire style of leadership and decided never to tell his team what and how to do things, but rather to give them the space and freedom to think for themselves.  Such enlightened leadership energised them. They were fully involved at every stage and Nike’s vision soon became their shared lifeblood.

3. Keep your eye on the bigger picture and don’t allow yourself to become complacent

The fast changing and dynamic leisure and sports market is flooded with manufacturers, sponsors and heroic role models and yet there is always room for improvement. The world is in a constant state of flux. Diagnostic tools in biomechanics, complex video analysis and ever-advancing technology mean that you can never rest on your laurels. You just never know exactly what is around the next bend and there is always someone who might just overtake you on the home straight.  You can’t predict the future, but you must always be prepared to listen, to change direction and to take a risk.

So, what can you learn from the Nike story?

Go on! Just do it!