Post title image: “It’ll grow on me”: Phil Knight, the master of Disagree and Commit

“It’ll grow on me”: Phil Knight, the master of Disagree and Commit

Sometimes the best ideas aren’t yours, spotting them is half the battle.

Desk Notes

In the film Air, Matt Damon - playing Nike’s basketball guru Sonny Vaccaro - decides he wants to sign Michael Jordan at all costs. Ben Affleck - playing Nike CEO Phil Knight - isn’t sure. Hijinks ensue, every rule in the book is broken, and they get the deal over the line. If this were an ordinary film, Phil Knight would be the villain.

But he’s not. Why? It’s what he says after Vaccaro pitches Knight the name “Air Jordan” that gives us a clue: “I don’t know, maybe it’ll grow on me.”

That line is actually taken from another event in Nike history: when Carolyn Johnson designs the Swoosh. He’s similarly non-impressed, calling the options at first “morbidly obese squiggles,” and only then offering qualified approval to the final designs.

Earth-9591 callingEarth-9591 calling

It was the same story with the word Nike. In 1971, after the company had decided to be more than a mere distributor of Japanese designed trainers, they needed a name. Phil wanted “Dimension Six.”

Just a few hours before they needed to file the patent, Jeff Johnson, Nike’s first hire, had a dream in which he’d seen the word Nike. He called it in. Debate ensued. Phil lost. Again.

I don’t like any of them, but I guess that’s the best of the bunch.

This is the weird thing about Knight. If you look at many of the foundational decisions that built Nike, it seems like he disagreed with every single one. But - unlike most other CEOs - he let it happen anyway.

Indeed - it’ll grow on me - is probably the best way to understand both the great paradox of Phil Knight, and the reason for Nike’s success.

It’s also why Shoe Dog is - for my money - the best business book out there. He breaks all the rules about how to build a great company.

You’re told to move fast. He spends an entire year doing nothing but waiting for Onitsuka, his Japanese supplier, to send some samples of their shoes.

This is how I spent 1963. Quizzing pigeons, polishing my valiant, writing letters.

You’re told to over-communicate. He relentlessly ghosts his best sales person (Jeff, mentioned above), ignoring pretty much every letter and update he gets sent.

And you’re told to make the big strategic decisions yourself. Not outsource them to other members of the team.

"Hey Slim...""Hey Slim..."

But Phil wins. And deservedly so. Because he’s the master of disagreeing and committing. He’s comfortable about being outvoted, in a way that very few CEOs would be. Sometimes, your gut is wrong.

And I think it’s because he gets one big thing right. He understands that a  startup isn’t one good idea, it’s 1000s of good ideas. And one person can’t come up with them all.

It’s a great lesson because it runs counter to so often what we’re told. Chill out. Relax. Bring the energy, but let others bring the ideas.

Sometimes, things grow on you.

Continue reading from The Journal:

Crossover Creativity, or why Ashore exists

Desk Notes
How to work like an artist, even if you aren’t.
March 20, 2024

Think Weeks: What They Are and How to Do Them Right

The Future of Work
Lessons from Bill Gates (and others) when it comes to finding productivity and creativity
March 18, 2024

Hungry Dogs

Desk Notes
Why did startups start being afraid of the underdog?
March 14, 2024

The CEO Residency Programme

Ashore News
Helping leaders find the space to step back, and think
March 7, 2024

Zuck's Instagram

Desk Notes
What status looks like in a world where time is all that matters
March 5, 2024
Follow us
X (Formerly Twitter)

X (Formerly Twitter)






Privacy Policy

Terms & Conditions

Host Agreement

Frequently Asked Questions


Ashore For Teams


About Us

Content Partnerships

Founder Residencies

Team Retreats


Gift Card Shop

Write to your boss, with AI

Chat with our AI Booking Assistant


The Journal

Aled’s Desk Notes

Travel Guides

Famous towns & villages in the UK

The Best towns & villages in the UK

The Prettiest towns & villages in the UK

Work Guides

How do you come up with new ideas?

How do you ensure remote workers & teams are productive?