What I learned from Rich Franklin at Chicago Ideas Week

Chicago Ideas Week has been offered great lectures and words of wisdom in many areas of business, enterprise and life.  It’s our city’s 4th year offering an eclectic menu of topics to expand your mind. The events that have captured my attention have little in common: Veterans: Life After Service featuring Mark Doyle (a student of mine) who began Rags of Honor,  Marijuana: America’s Budding Business, which drew me in because the West Loop (my neighborhood) might be the home to a new Medical Marijuana Dispensary and even Creating Sweet Beginnings & Saving Bees, because I think bees are cool.   But I also attended a series called Work Like A…. .   It featured: LZ Granderson (Writer for CNN), Leroy Chiao (Astronaut), Bonnie Curtis (Film Producer), Rich Franklin (3X- UFC Champion) and Christian Madsbjerg (PhD in Philosophy and Consultant).  I got something very valuable from each presenter.  But, truth be told, I went to see Rich Franklin.  I have a great history with Rich.  When I used to write for Grappling Magazine as an independent features writer, Rich was always my favorite interview, conversation and story.  I could always count on Rich to offer an intelligent comment or provide insight in a relevant way on the UFC at the time.

Currently, Rich Franklin is the Vice-President of the Singapore-based mixed martial arts organization ONE FC.  He serves as their spokesperson in Asia and the United States.  Although he has paused his fighting career, Rich still focuses much of his efforts with projects that promote overall health and nutrition.  His latest endeavor is a product called ‘Armor Gel.’  It is a gel that can be used as a ‘first line of defense’ or a barrier against Staph (Staphylococcus aureus), the Pseudomonas, E. coli, MRSA, VRE and Ringworm.  Rich is diversifying himself with his involvement in a product that offers a non-toxic topical option for preventing the spread of communicable diseases. Beyond preaching the value of healthy living, Rich recognizes there are many ways to heighten wellness awareness for students of MMA, wrestling and the combat sports which impacts their health.

I was not surprised to see Rich grab the attention of the audience with pictures from what he humorously described as his “office”, essentially his bloodied and beaten face in the ring.  I think it hit home with the audience, as I did see Madsbjerg, the Danish Philosopher cringe.   But, considering that I am surrounded by the sport of MMA and consider myself a ‘stone-cold’ martial arts & fitness professional, I benefited from Rich’s words.

Since I had left my office with a few issues on my docket awaiting resolution, I was happy that  Rich’s presentation really resonated with me and I left the Northwestern Campus with a better sense of clarity.  Here are my favorite points from his talk.

  1. There is a difference between a professional fighter and a champion.  I felt this was a critical key point for him to make.  I think it was important to clarify for audience members who do not follow the sport of MMA that just being a professional fighter, does not make you successful.  I also believe as a 3 X Champion, Rich was entitled to this comment.  In applying this comment to everyone, I believe the real message is that a Champion garners more respect than just a professional fighter.  The reason is because you have proven yourself and your accomplishments speak for you.  This is also the case in the professional world.  At some point, you have to achieve something greater than your colleagues to set you apart from the rest.
  2. There is a difference between your goal and your motivation.  Rich went on to use a picture of his championship belt as the representation of the worse goal and motivation a fighter could have.  He believes that it is a narrow-minded use of the tremendous talent, energy and effort that goes into becoming a champion.  If money and possessions are how you motivate yourself, you will find yourself lonely and unhappy once you reach your goal. I believe his emphasis on motivation was also cross-selling the value of passion.  You must love what you do day in and day out in order to reach your goals.
  3. It is really the minutia that separates a champion from the professional.  This was my favorite point that made Rich.  He gave the example that so many fighters say, ‘they train harder, they have a lot of talent and their coaches are the best.’  This cannot be true for every fighter and really should not be considered your defining feature.  This is a baseline.  Everyone who wants to travel the road to a championship, should be working hard, eating well, have talent and surround him or herself with great coaching. It is YOUR details that make the difference.  It is not enough to be tough, train hard, have talent and seek out good instruction.  This is your required coursework.  Learning to identify the minutia within your skills and how to leverage them will bring you closer to championship viability.  Then, once you get there, your details and required coursework need to come together with the right motivation.   This comment can be applied to all professions.  It is no different than creating your ‘own blue ocean.’  W. Chan Kim explains this so well in Blue Ocean Strategy.  Until you fully understand  your differentiating characteristic, whether it is within yourself, of your product, of your company; you will not survive when the competition closes in around you.

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