When the Denver Broncos won the Super Bowl in their “toughest test yet” this week, few people realized that the fighting spirit in the team’s most important player — a “bionic man” gunning for a final victory after several catastrophic neck injuries — was thanks to The Art of War, a war manual written by a Chinese general over 2,500 years ago.
Peyton Manning, the quarterback held largely responsible for the team’s win, had been left with potentially career-destroying neck injuries in 2012. The damage was so bad that his fitness trainer, the illustrious Mackie Shilstone, admits he had to “break him into pieces and put him back together again,” to prepare him for the Super Bowl.
Drastic action was needed, then, and Shilstone knew just where to turn: to 6th-century BC war manual The Art of War. The morning of the game, Shilstone sent Manning passages from the infamous text, hoping that Sun Tzu’s words would make him “believe he had that one last game inside him,” according to The Guardian. And it worked: Manning launched a “sterling, swarming defensive effort” on the Carolina Panthers, helping the Broncos clinch a decisive 24-10 victory and propelling himself into the history books.
So why did Shilstone choose The Art of War? Because Sun Tzu’s words can help you prepare for, fight, and win any kind of personal or professional battle — no matter how much the odds are stacked against you. His most compelling and practical lessons are…
The Art of War in three minutes
1. “Victorious warriors win first and then go to war.”
According to Sun Tzu, if you are to win, you must have more knowledge than your competition. This requires a tireless commitment to planning and strategy. Never step on the battlefield unless you have enough reliable information to indicate that you will win.
2. “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”
As part of careful preparation, you must know yourself, the battlefield, and your competition thoroughly, argues Sun Tzu. You must also assemble a great team around you. This means choosing the right people, ranking them meritocratically, and taking advantage of their strengths and weaknesses.
3. “Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys.”
Equip your troops with all of the weapons they need to win before sending them into battle. For the troops to be loyal, you must treat them with respect.
4. “When the general speaks in meek and subservient tone to his subordinates, he has lost the support of his men.”
Great leadership requires certain qualities: commitment, self-confidence, authority, boldness, decisiveness, and conviction. If you show any sign of weakness in front of your team, this may prove disastrous.
5. “When able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.”
Once you have prepared, and built a great team, it is time to use your knowledge and manpower to defeat your opponent. This requires great intelligence, skill, and deception, not arrogance or aggressiveness.
6. “The skilful leader subdues the enemy’s troops without any fighting; he captures their cities without laying siege to them; he overthrows their kingdom without lengthy operations in the field.”
Finally, you must triumph while minimizing losses. To achieve this, you must strategically seek to avoid conflict. After all, the best victory is one that involves no casualties and minimal financial cost.