Excerpted from the book GSP: The Way of the Fight by Georges St-Pierre with Justin Kingsley. Copyright © 2013 by Georges St-Pierre. Reprinted with permission of HarperCollins Canada.
Standing still is never a good option. Not in the ring, and not in life outside the octagon either. When you stop moving, you’re done. When the status quo becomes your main weapon, your arsenal is diminished. When you can find no other way forward except for repetition, your mistakes are compounded into defeat.
Therefore, the only way forward in life is innovation. And innovation, born from true creativity, depends on movement. Life, after all, is all about motion, whereas stasis is equivalent to death.
When you’d rather die than relive an error, and when you’re truly committed to finding a better way to live your life, this is when the world opens its arms, welcomes and rewards you with opportunity. This is why we innovate, or we die.
Innovation is very important to me, especially professionally. The alternative, standing pat, leads to complacency, rigidity and eventually failure. Innovation, to me, means progression, the introduction of new elements that are functional and adaptable to what I do. It’s all about making me better, whether through natural evolution or adaptation of previously unknown ideas. The reality is that innovation is a process, with its own rules and steps.
In my case, it’s simple: I keep the white-belt mentality that I can learn from anyone, anywhere, anytime. For those of you who have never tried martial arts, the white-belt mentality is the first thing you understand, on your first day as a beginner when you receive your white belt: everything is knowledge, all must be learned. I try to maintain that mentality. When I discover an element that I think can be useful to me, I adapt it to my routine and my outlook; I submit it to a trial-error-and-refinement process. If it passes the test, I incorporate the new knowledge into my arsenal. I practice it and build up my muscle memory to perform it properly. I enter the octagon with an open, fresh mind, and with support from my handpicked team. And finally, I apply the innovation at the right time. It becomes who I am, and it means that innovation keeps me ahead of my competition. It means that my foes must adapt to me, not the other way around.
Another great reason to change training systems or approaches is to avoid boredom. Change is a great motivator, which is where all good training starts. When I get stuck doing the same things over and over again, I need something new or I start developing mental fatigue. I need to feel I’m constantly getting better.
That’s why “innovate or die” rings true for me. My whole life, I’ve been fascinated by the natural world and how animals survive or become extinct. The study of dinosaurs is especially interesting because those creatures aren’t here anymore, and they were the biggest, fiercest living things on the planet. Meanwhile, rats and cockroaches survive.
How is that? A cockroach can’t defeat a dinosaur. But the cockroach is better at one thing, and it has ensured its survival through the ages: adaptation. One could adapt to the environment and the other one couldn’t.
Most people don’t realize this basic, fundamental and crucial thing, and it’s key for mixed martial arts–and all sports, in fact. Your opponent constantly changes too. In the mixed martial arts world you fight wrestlers, leg lockers, punchers. Every time you fight, your opponent doesn’t look anything like the previous opponent. Taking it a step further, if it’s the second time you fight an opponent, he often doesn’t look like the previous version.
I fight knockout artists, grapplers, kickers, wrestlers, punchers–the whole gamut. I have to keep adapting to new hostile environments because what happens in the octagon is ever-changing. This is ingrained in my mind, and I’ve adapted my training to accept and prepare for it. …
… I’ve learned that my innovative capacities seem to rise up when there’s a crisis, a conflict. Like losing my title, for example, or hurting my knee badly. Those situations told me I needed to continue my innovation to recapture my title, my place in martial arts. The way I see it, innovation is a discipline, not a lottery. It’s got nothing to do with luck, or even eureka moments, because those are unplanned, unscripted. For me, it comes from the combination of two elements within my control: hard work and open-mindedness.
Very often, we see leaders lose sight of how they got to where they are: by being and thinking differently from the competition. They make it to first place, and then their thinking changes from seeking innovation to seeking the status quo. They think, I made it to first place, so now I must not change a thing. But change is what got them to the top in the first place! This is because they’re focused on the positive result rather than on the process of success.
Innovation is why there are still human beings on the planet. The wheel, the plow, the harnessing of fire; religion, atheism, logic, mysticism; the longbow, gunpowder; modern medicine, the car, computer chips–the world is a constant reminder of the impact of innovation, whether through physical tools or intellectual theories or movements.
The history of war, for example, proves again and again that innovations are usually the deciding factor in battle. But this shouldn’t be confused with inspiration: inspiration might be the initial idea or seed of the idea in a person’s mind. Innovation means putting whatever the idea is through a process, checking results, using it in specific situations.
This is no different from my approach to fighting and the octagon, which is, in fact, my “battlefield.” You can’t simply enter and beat someone on instinct; you can’t go in with the same approach over and over because it worked last time. Nowadays, every camp has access to video footage and has roughly the same technical tools as the opponent. The difference in success comes in the carefully planned innovation. You must change things up–not just keep them fresh, but progress. Your strategy might come as a surprise to the opponent, critics or fans, but in reality it has been well researched, learned and trained to a point that this innovation can then give way to inspiration.
Professional fighting, and mixed martial arts in particular, offers one of the least stable environments in terms of the sporting world. A fight is absolute, total, surreal chaos. The results fluctuate, and there are no safe returns in MMA, except winning.
All of my innovations are absolutely efficiency based. I take the risk of innovating, of building upon a winning formula to avoid becoming stale or complacent and, above all, to rise to the ever-changing challenge before me. If change is constant in the world, it must be for all individuals too.