Book Reviews: February 2017
Only two books read, in part because I’m still working on Private Empire by Steve Coll which is quite lengthy. Hoping for more progress in March…
Shoe Dog by Phil Knight
This is a very well-written memoir, up there with recent examples like Open by Andre Agassi. It’s not surprising then that both share the same ghost writer, J.R. Moehringer, who manages to make both men seem reflective and honest despite detailing sometimes-less-than-ideal behavior. In Knight’s case, his crippling shyness manifests itself as an aloof executive from the very early days of his company. And he’s both forthright and contrite about not spending enough time with his family, especially his two sons, growing up.
While Nike is today a worldwide brand and Knight a billionaire many times over, building the company was not an overnight success. It started out as the west coast distributor for Japanese running shoes and then turned into Nike 8 years later. Meanwhile Knight was working as a CPA, as a college professor, and various other jobs alongside running the growing company. Cash was a constant struggle despite regular growth; he needed to front the money for orders before they were booked and was often at the mercy of bankers.
There’s much more to the book and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in founding businesses. One critique, however, is that Knight completely glosses over the years since the company went public in 1980, which is probably the topic for a second, equally-long memoir. But a glaring omission is his failure to adequately address the controversies over Nike operating sweatshops overseas. Knight’s tone—unusual for the rest of the book—is defensive and dismissive.
The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
The central idea here is that all habits fall into the pattern of “cue-habit-routine”. If you can identify the cues and triggers for a routine of yours, you can change it. That’s basically the book.
Duhigg is a fluid writer and the the book starts off strong, but I found myself skipping many of the later chapters. Too many far-fetched examples to make the same point. And even then, for example when discussing Febreze, the story doesn’t match with my own reality. He claims that Febreze fixes all smells, but it wasn’t until the marketers associated it with a cue, it’s smell as a post-cleaning reward, that adoption took place. This doesn’t seem true to me. Febreze does not clean all smells!
The book is worth a look to think more deeply about habits and how they form, but frustratingly falls into the bucket of standard pop-science books that have a simple idea and play a bit fast-and-loose with anecdotes to derive a book-length treatment.