We pulled up a chair and had a chat with Chad Knight, Senior 3D Design Manager at Nike. You may know him for more than his leadership at Nike. Chad has spent the past year and a half creating a mind blowing daily digital diary; you can see it here. We were also excited to talk with him about his experience as a pro skateboarder. It was a great conversation getting to know Chad and how he stays on his A game. Here’s a glimpse of how it went.
As a man, what three things are part of your core values? Have these traits always been present in your character or did it take time to identify and develop?
Passion, authenticity, and humility. Unconsciously, I’ve been aware that these are very important. I was a professional skateboarder for a very long time; and when I started my current career about 7 years ago, and getting into understanding how business is run, I think these traits helped to shape a lot of how things worked out. I see a lot of issues that could be prevented if people followed this formula. People put on a front a lot, maybe it’s because they think that’s what is best. Maybe they should acknowledge when they need help or don’t know something. It’s challenging for people. Arrogance ends up standing in the way of a lot of progress. For me, I think these traits have always been there, because I’ve always been well aware of the fact that I don’t know everything and there’s nothing wrong with admitting that. If you want to progress in something, you have to have room to grow in it.
When it comes to growth, how do you push yourself? What motivates you to want to improve?
I learn by doing, and trial and error. Initially, growing up and well into my 20’s I had probably a lower self-esteem than most people, and I felt like I had to compensate for that. My solution was staying competitive. If you can do something better, why not do it? I’m one of those people whose mind never quiets. I’m constantly thinking about things. I’m constantly problem solving so I like to explore ideas and see how I can make things better. If it’s work I’m doing and it’s being tied to me, I want it to be of a certain quality. I think that just stems from holding myself to high standards or being competitive with myself. Some people are just super competitive and that’s what it boils down to. I just think, if you could do it better, why not do it better.
When it comes to being “out-of-the-box”, what do you enjoy doing that only people close to you may know? And why do you do it, what satisfaction does it provide?
I like to listen to podcasts and watch documentaries on science, space explorations, metaphysical topics, and anything that relates to mysteries of the human kind. It makes me feel like there’s something more to this life than going through the motions.
Does your interest in science and mysteries influence your art?
I think that ever since I was young, I was the kid who would get “mysteries of the unknown” type books. I’ve always been very intrigued by things we don’t have any answers to. When I was younger, I was interested in going into a career like astronomy or deep sea exploration. As I got older I realized that’s because those were the two areas I knew at the time as areas where there was still much to be discovered. And then, as I got older, I took an interest in philosophy and psychology; kind of transforming my interests from the external world to how it relates to me, how the brain works, and things like that. There has always been something that intrigues me about there being more to life than what we see. I just don’t think there’s any chance we could know, see, and sense everything. I believe there’s a much more interesting world or universe that we’re a part of, that maybe we are just too busy to take the time to kind of look at and see. I’m very interested in how thought works; how we get certain ideas from the unconscious to the conscious; why some people are created and some aren’t; and geometry. I think it all ties to things we just don’t know about.
Who is your biggest inspiration?
Danny Way. He was a couple of years older than me and he was my favorite skateboarder growing up. He would do things that no one thought was possible and it was constant. Every time you saw a photo of him or a video, he was completely pushing the boundaries of skateboarding and literally redefining what was possible. The guy broke his neck, was paralyzed for a year, and came back better than ever. His willpower and mental strength is so profound that it makes you think, ‘If he can do that, then I can probably get up and try this one more time.’
Can you tell us what a day in your life looks like? How does your day unfold from the time you wake up in the morning?
First thing is hitting snooze on my alarm for an hour. I get caffeine in my system, go to work, and spend 8 hours at a job where I get to combine my love of 3D design with footwear at Nike. At the end of the work day, I go home, take a nap, and spend my evening making personal art which I’ve discovered has become a passion of mine within the last year. It started with me spending every evening practicing 3D and quickly evolved into a creative outlet in a medium that I felt I’ve mastered to express my ideas. In an attempt to continuously improve, I’ve spent the last year learning. What started as a learning exercise has evolved into spending a lot of time in exploration of making.
How essential is it to your life for you to be able to create personal art?
It started out with me managing projects and not doing the work as much. I didn’t want to forget what was out there. I didn’t want to lose touch of the 3D world and I wanted to constantly be aware of what’s out there as software evolves. It started out as an exercise or professional development. Quickly I realized it was very therapeutic. I would go in there and a lot of things came out, things that I was trying to process or get through at the time. It was almost like a visual diary of what I was working through or whatever was going on in my life at the time. It’s been over a year now since I started. I don’t know what the consequences would be if I didn’t. I can’t imagine it would be anything too serious but it’s good, I like just feeling like I accomplished something that day, even if it’s just knowing I made something. I contributed to the world in some sense that day. This is a way for me to be able to connect with people.
We all dream and sometimes share similar dreams without knowing… Care to share your dreams with us? Where do you see yourself (5) years from now?
I’d like to be in a place where I’m able to use my experiences to help reinvent how designers work. I also hope to continue learning and growing as an artist myself and evolve my creations into physical installations.
What’s in the top three of your bucket list?
Do the mega ramp, collaborate on a shoe design, and see one of my sculptures on a mountainside. This is a hard question because if it’s something I really want to do, it wouldn’t go on my bucket list. It’s something I would start trying to make happen right now.
Do you still skateboard? How often? Is this a happy place for you?
It’s not something I do on a daily basis anymore. I would say it’s still part of my life in terms of what I’ve learned from skateboarding. I watch skateboard videos daily. I follow it still, and I am still absolutely in love with it. I just don’t have the time to do it as much as I would like to and my body just hurts a lot more than it used to. It’s just part of the reality of growing up. It has definitely helped shape who I am. So in that sense I feel like it’ll always be part of me and will always be part of my daily life.
What is the most important thing you’ve learned from skateboarding?
It’s more character teaching than anything for me. It’s one of those things that taught me that persistence will pay off and there’s always a solution if you just try something, and problem solve. It’s really just problem solving. You’re testing out some things and if it doesn’t work, you adjust and you try it again. It really can apply to anything. And the other thing is, it taught me at a pretty young age that those things I thought I would never do, I could do it! Like wow, maybe I am capable of more than I am giving myself credit for. I think when you shift your thinking in that sense, where you think you’re capable of more, and believe you can do something, you’re going to be much more inclined to be successful at it if you go into it believing you can do it.
Chad is definitely a page out of our Fall Campaign, Cultivate, Grow and Inspire. His core values of passion, authenticity, and humility would be a great addition to any of our arsenals. No matter how far we’ve come, we would do good to remember to leave room for growth. We hope you enjoyed hearing from Chad as much as we did.
Check out his work on Instagram: @chadknight