Phil Knight's Powerful "Standard Catechism" Method for Assessing a Situation and Getting Unstuck

Tags: leadership, growth, self-mastery

I just finished listening to Phil Knight's fantastic and refreshingly transparent book, Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike, and was intrigued by a method he used to assess and solve seemingly insurmountable situations as he formed, defended, and grew Nike. If you've read the book, you know that Nike's ascent to the top of the athletic shoe and apparel business was not a smooth one for Knight and his co-founders. If you haven't, it's worth the time and I wholeheartedly recommend it as one of the best CEO memoirs I've read. One of the most surprising details that made the book fascinating was that Nike teetered on the brink of bankruptcy, federal prosecution, and company-ending sabotage for nearly two decades. 

Through each difficult situation Knight faced, though, he would find a quiet place where he could be alone, collect his thoughts, and conduct the "Standard Catechism" on himself. I listed to the book on audio, so I heard this series of questions a couple of times, but it wasn't a major theme. When I searched for this method online and in the digital book, it wasn't easy to find. So, I thought it would be helpful to post it so others could use it when they are facing situations that require a methodical process for assessing their current state and determining how to get unstuck and move forward.

Phil Knight's Standard Catechism: 

  1. What do you know?
  2. What else do you know? (repeat as necessary)
  3. What does the future hold?
  4. What is step one?
  5. What is step two? (repeat as necessary)

That's it. It's very straightforward, but intently focuses on truth, solutions, and steps. Knight would ask himself each question, figure out the the best answer he could come up with, and act on his instincts. This is an expanded method of one I've used in the past; which is just simply asking yourself "what is the next best thing to do?" Notice the emphasis on the word "best." You can do many things when figuring out how to get through tough times. But, for me, asking what is the best thing I can do to get unstuck cuts through the cruft and is invaluable.

I hope this post if valuable for someone. I took many notes while listening to the book and thought Knight's self-questioning method would be easy to find, so I waited until I finished the book to document it for myself and was surprised that it was so difficult to track down.

To add a bonus concept that Knight used to guide himself and the growth of Nike, I really enjoyed his almost constant use of the Douglas MacArthur quote:

"You are remembered for the rules you break."

Not for the authority challenging aspect of it, as it's usually used, but for the idea that we can't do great things by maintaining the status quo. We need to break accepted norms, question our actions, and boldly persue the unknown if we want to rise to be exceptional (to be remembered).

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