Those who know me well, know that an important part of my self-care is time spent in a movie theater. It’s a release and creative exercise in storytelling; two hours to let your mind become engrossed in something other than work, phone off, with a big bag of popcorn and Sour Patch Kids. The magic of the movies, like any art, rubs off in your everyday life and work.
I recently viewed the Nike “Air” movie, the story of how the global footwear and apparel icon, as a fledgling company in its early days, was able to court and close Michael Jordan to create the now ubiquitous Air Jordan brand. A wonderfully entertaining film, it was also full of great insights for brands and leaders alike. With both visionary and practical lessons in leadership, strategy and positioning, the movie buff in me is excited to share tangible takeaways from the Nike “Air” movie below:
Selling is storytelling. Storytelling is selling. There is simply nothing more powerful than a compelling story. In previous columns I have talked about how the more effective storyteller always wins the room, always gets the sell. In the film, Nike executives sold Jordan on an amazing story of brand potential and personal grandeur that clearly appealed to him. The story, and the terms baked into the story, sealed the deal.
For brands, understand that while your product(s) might truly be industry leading and the best on proverbial shelves, unless the product is packaged with a cohesive and cogent narrative, the quality simply doesn’t matter, or plays a secondary role. For emerging leaders and current professionals, understand that your personal brand and reputation, your story, is crucial to you selling yourself to potential employers, your employees, your board, your customers, etc. Your story matters to your stakeholders so always ensure that you’re crafting a tale that illustrates competence, resilience, and trust at all levels.
Never underestimate the power a circle of influence has on a decision maker. Nike leadership quickly realized how much the people around him, specifically his mother, would dictate the decision of which shoe company he would sign with. Nike knew and made sure the story they told was carefully created and curated with her in mind. They sold her more than they did Michael on his potential and what his likeness would mean for generations to come (not to mention the dollars generated for the family). Michael’s journey to Nike is a masterclass in influencing the influencers and highlights how there is an ecosystem around every deal. Astute closers identify and leverage that ecosystem.
For brands, it is important to realize that for major partnerships and deals, there is likely more than one person that needs to be involved, and even more likely that the person you think has the final say is waiting for their trusted advisor(s) to guide them to the dotted line. For professionals, the takeaway here is to always deploy your connections and network to get what you want. Whether it’s a new job or promotion, think through who is influencing the person you need to convince and make sure you are building a relationship and selling a story or desired outcome to them.
Just because you or your brand is known for one thing doesn’t mean that one thing can’t be something else. Nike was known as a running company and was almost laughed out of board rooms for thinking they could enter the basketball game. Adidas and Converse dominated the space prior to MJ. Then the company made history because they knew they could be something more than what they’ve always been. The point here is simple: A purposeful pivot and/or complete reinvention can be an undeniable game-changer. For brands and professional alike, remember that you are not only multifaceted, but to survive, you must be opportunistic and align with the ever changing corporate and social landscape.
For me, I spent more than a decade in the social impact (nonprofit) and quasi-political space before making the jump to corporate strategy. I was known as the nonprofit guy until I realized that my skills were sector agnostic. I understood that my expertise in facilitation, consensus building, and mitigating risk could be used anywhere – while still having positive social impact – and parlayed that into leading strategy for a venture-backed healthcare company (with great success). Remember: change is not only allowed, its required. In your career you will make several pivots, embrace those moments to consistently elevate.
Sometimes you just have to dismiss the status quo. Nike was innovative and forward thinking in their pay structure for Jordan and that mindset obviously paid dividends. There’s something to be said about always following the strategy and approach that made you who you are – for both businesses and leaders – but there is also something so inherently powerful in choosing to go against the grain and taking a chance. Nike bet on itself, and I would encourage companies, leaders, and professionals to do the same. As a Maverick and ENTJ, I am naturally stubborn, so being told “that won’t work” or “that just isn’t possible” motivates me more than anything. This work style might be easier for me than others but believing that you can achieve the unachievable is a very effective way to take your company and your career to the next level.
Passion always wins. For Nike, for your company, and for your personal brand – the capacity of passion to persuade is undeniable. Whether you are a business trying to acquire new customers or a leader trying to motivate and move an entire team, it is so vitally important to start with your “why” and let your passion lead the process. Nike was unabashed and unyielding in their passion for bringing the best out of athletes and inspiring everyone who wears their shoes. What’s your passion and how are you turning that passion into a riveting story?
If you haven’t seen the Nike “Air” movie yet, please go watch on Amazon immediately. The entertaining, thought-provoking screenplay and fine acting rejuvenates, and reminds us that we can all be inspired by heroes and Hollywood. Now pass back the popcorn.
Best known as an award-winning company culture whisperer and strategy guru, Sentari Minor has spent more than a decade cultivating new businesses, building brands and moving people and ideas at several category-leading enterprises and nonprofits in the Southwest. He received 40 Under 40 recognition in 2022 from the Phoenix Business Journal and is currently Vice President of Strategy and Chief of Staff at evolvedMD in Scottsdale, Arizona, an Inc. 5000 firm. SentariMMinor.com
Photo by Styves Exantus