In 1964, with a $500 loan from his dad and partnering with his former University of Oregon Track coach, 26-year old Phil Knight founded Nike. The name Nike he drew from the ancient Greek goddess of victory. The company known as Nike began as Blue Ribbon Sports, with Phil selling Tiger shoes, now ASICS, out of the trunk of his car.
Blue Ribbon became Nike just a couple months before my birth in 1971. Phil started out just a few miles from where I grew up in Beaverton, OR. With buckets full of conviction and a trunk full of sneakers, Phil spent the first 12 plus years after forming his company teetering on the edge of success, while at the same time dealing with the possibility that his company could collapse. He faced an astounding number of challenges on the way to Nike becoming the biggest shoe company on the planet. He had cash flow problems, bank loan problems, supply problems, shoe quality problems, employee problems and territory infringement problems, just to name a few.
With what seemed like never-ending and insurmountable challenges, I will suggest that there were certainly days Phil could have Pulled the Chicken Switch and given up.
On the F-16 fighter jet with a price tag of $47M (2016), the Chicken Switch is the control between the pilot’s legs that she/he can pull if the necessity arises to eject from the jet during an unsalvageable mission.
Pulling the Chicken Switch is the decision to resign, bail out, declare failure and give up. The pilot is ejected and the plane destroyed.
For a pilot, Pulling the Chicken Switch can appear as the only option in a given moment. It can seem like the only way out or the best choice. May I suggest that perhaps that isn’t always the case? Things like desire, purpose, training, experience, maturity, sheer ferocity of will; hard work, luck and patience could turn the dive, divert the crash, and salvage the mission.
I use the decision to Pull the Chicken Switch in a fighter jet as a metaphor for willpower and achieving your mission and goals in life.
I believe it’s possible there were days Phil felt, heard and even tasted that shiny Chicken Switch calling his name and saying, “Pull me. Pull me. Abandon, resign, desert and give up!
But he didn’t and neither should you.
Phil found a way. He persevered, he out maneuvered the desire to quit, he out-solved the problems, and today the Nike Brand is the most recognized sports brand in the world marketplace. Nike is a $30B/year company in sales. Its slogan ‘Just Do It’ was named one of the top 5 slogans of the 20th century and is enshrined in the Smithsonian Institute.
Phil never took his eye off the prize, yet along the way, during those years with never ending snags, there were moments where he made mistakes and acted against his better judgment. He made unwise decisions and mistakes at times. That is human. Who hasn’t made mistakes, given up at times, Pulled the Chicken Switch on things you said you’d do, but don’t?
How do you more readily stave off Pulling the Chicken Switch? By building a deep reservoir of strength, call it willpower. Be committed to gaining knowledge. Insure you really desire what you are going after every day. Make a commitment to stay with it. Be willing to practice and face lots of challenges. Hold yourself and your people accountable, and keep a strong commitment to a relentless level of conviction.
As Nike coined it almost 3 decades ago, “Just Do It!”