The Key Principles to Take Your Business from Ordinary to Extraordinary


By Dr. Frank Luntz

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From the New York Times bestselling author and top pollster Dr. Frank Luntz comes an unprecedented examination of communication excellence and how top performers win in all areas of human endeavor by utilizing superb communication skills. From Mike Bloomberg and Arnold Schwarzenegger to business icons Rupert Murdoch, Steve Wynn, and Fred Smith; to the CEOs of MGM Resorts, J. Crew, and Gibson Guitar; to legendary sports superstars like Larry Bird, Jimmy Connors, and Mike Richter; to media legends Roger Ailes, Don Imus, and dozens more, Luntz tells their stories–in their own words–and demonstrates how their style of operation and communication is absolutely essential to their success. Luntz makes it clear that following the rules of effective communication is indispensable in any successful human endeavor.

Dr. Luntz offers more than seventy new “words that work” for private one-on-one meetings with your boss, for public presentations to hundreds of colleagues, or for television appearances that reach millions. There are more than three dozen specific lessons and recommendations–and each one directly illustrates the nine essential action-oriented principles of winning at every level: People-Centered, Paradigm-Breaking, Prioritizing, Perfection, Partnerships, Passion, Persuasion, Persistence, and Principled Actions.

Do you have what it takes Win is an unprecedented examination of the art, science, and language of winning, and a must-have for people who want to understand and emulate the winners of today.

  • The ability to grasp the human dimension of every situation
  • The ability to know what questions to ask and when to ask them
  • The ability to see the challenge, and the solution, from every angle
  • The ability to communicate their vision passionately and persuasively
  • The ability to connect with others and create an enduring chemistry
  • and 10 other universal attributes of winners.


Chapter 1


The 15 Attributes of Winners

Look at it this way: if winning wasn’t so hard, it wouldn’t feel so good.


To what do I owe my success? Three things: I came to America. I worked very hard. And I married a Kennedy.


Win is designed to be an unprecedented examination of effective communication in America today as told by America’s great communicators.

There are dozens of business books that offer to “give you the edge” or tell you to “seize the moment,” but they don’t really tell you how. Win teaches by highlighting real-world examples of the companies, people, and politicians who achieve greatness, and examines what we can learn from what they say, how they say it, and why. Ultimately, life is a contest in which people play to win. This book addresses the philosophy, strategy, and language of winning from the perspective of America’s greatest winners inside and outside the business world.

So before you go any further, ask yourself two simple questions: First, how badly do you want to win? And second, are you willing to do what it takes to move from the ordinary to the extraordinary? If the answers are both yes, then let’s begin.



Jim Davidson, the co-CEO of Silver Lake, one of the most savvy and successful private equity firms in America, has a simple philosophy for deciding where his $14 billion fund should invest: start at the end of the process and work backward. That strategy also applies to this book. Allow me to begin at the end. If I were to summarize twenty years of corporate and political communication research and discussions with America’s business, political, sports, and entertainment elite into a single, simple checklist, what differentiates genuine winners from everyone else is the following:

the ability to grasp the human dimension of every situation;

the ability to know what questions to ask and when to ask them;

the ability to see what doesn’t yet exist and bring it to life;

the ability to see the challenge, and the solution, from every angle;

the ability to distinguish the essential from the important;

the ability and the drive to do more and do it better;

the ability to communicate their vision passionately and persuasively;

the ability to move forward when everyone around them is retrenching or slipping backward;

the ability to connect with others spontaneously;

a curiosity about the unknown;

a passion for life’s adventures;

a chemistry with the people they work with and the people they want to influence;

the willingness to fail and the fortitude to get back up and try again;

a belief in luck and good fortune; and

a love of life itself.

This book draws on more than three dozen private interviews with people who have made it to the very top of their professions, to the top of the Forbes 400 wealthiest Americans list and the Fortune 500 list. They have led their companies to great heights and led their teams to world championships. They are the best known and the most respected in their fields of endeavor. After combing through hundreds of pages of transcripts, a consistent pattern of attitudes and behavior emerges that applies across and throughout their careers. This book harmonizes and synthesizes their “secrets of success”—so you can make them yours.

In my work for dozens of Fortune 500 companies, I am consistently amazed at how many people would rather be working somewhere else—or at least for someone else—and yet they don’t act on it. Not life’s winners. They all love what they do. Most of them call it fun, and none of them call it work. Some acknowledge that they work hard or that they’ve had to sacrifice along the way, but all of them consider themselves grateful, blessed, and/or lucky to be doing what they’re doing, and none of them would rather be doing anything else.

These 15 Attributes of Winners are fundamental to the Nine Principles of Winning (aka the Nine P’s) and all that follows in this book, so let’s cement them with specific examples.


1. Winning by communicating:

Winners focus on the outcome, not just the process. They measurably prove they can lead you to better results. For example, they emphasize “wellness,” not “health care.” Why? Health care is the means; wellness is the end. Health care is a distant, impersonal bureaucratic system; wellness is a personal, aspirational state of being.

2. Winning by grasping the human dimension:

Winners deliver value that solves a quality-of-life need, rather than stopping at just price and profitability. They know that their bottom lines are best served not by “running the numbers” but rather by understanding the person. They recognize that every sustainable relationship arises from a personal, human need. So they make products and services that meet those needs—and market them to human beings, not to the amorphous masses.

3. Winning by focusing on the experience, not the technology:

Winners have the vision to see beyond the product and into the desires of their customers. It’s not about the iPhone or the BlackBerry; it’s about the hassle-free, worry-free apps delivered through the phones that revolutionize how a person lives, works, and experiences his or her individual world. And it’s done using ordinary language for ordinary people.

Winners are self-aware. They recognize their own strengths and weaknesses, and respond to situations accordingly. Don’t underestimate this. From Lehman Brothers to General Motors to Circuit City, countless companies have struggled or gone under because of leaders who stayed in their comfort zones and didn’t take the right action at the right time because they were afraid to make the wrong move. “Don’t think I’ve been here for fifty years because we’re a great company without having made a lot of mistakes on the way,” says Rupert Murdoch from his CEO suite on Sixth Avenue in Manhattan. “How are you going to question yourself? Are you going to look in the mirror? When you see things going wrong, do you try to put them right? Or maybe you can’t put them right. You have to say to yourself, ‘I was wrong to do this in the first place’ and just cut your losses. I know when to cut my losses.”

Winners are also tuned in to the needs and desires of others, and this outward focus guides them to deliver revolutionary solutions, not just better mouse traps.* They recognize where their strengths meet someone else’s needs and double down on delivering the greatest value while ignoring lesser distractions. In plain English, winners succeed because they foresee and pursue the biggest prize.

Winners recognize that even when they aren’t physically selling a product, they are always selling themselves. Every human interaction is an opportunity to connect—and then to sell. So says Tom Harrison, chairman and CEO of Diversified Agency Services (DAS), the largest subsidiary of Omnicom, the world’s largest advertising, marketing, and communications company. As one of Madison Avenue’s most creative minds, he knows by “instinct” (which just happens to be the title of his seminal book on human behavior) exactly what to say and when to say it. Winners know what makes people tick by effectively tapping into our fears and aspirations. By listening very carefully and then repeating almost word-for-word exactly what they’ve heard, winners know how to articulate compelling needs—and products to satisfy those needs—that people didn’t even know they wanted. Says Harrison, “As long as I can keep my ears wide open, and my eyes wide open, and literally understand every word that they are saying, then it’s about them. The moment I translate it, it becomes about me—and that’s why others fail.”

Bono is a winner by every measure. He is arguably the most iconic performer of his generation, as well as one of the most well-known people on the planet. A U2 show echoes in your ears for hours after the music stops . . . and the song sales echo in the band’s ears for years. But Bono’s biggest wins will reverberate for generations. They’re wins on a societal scale, and they’re what make him a true winner rather than merely a rock legend. Listen to Bono as he sits across from Larry King, or meets with world leaders, or hosts a policy summit, and you instantly realize how his quiet, serious commitment has won billions for the world’s hurting. Yes, he has a megaplatform—but so do many other rock stars. He wins where they do not, not because he is powerful, but because he is accessible, compelling, and has a common touch.

Winners don’t preach; they persuade. Winners clearly articulate their own principles and kindly, subtly invite you to adopt them. But the choice is yours. Sure, they lead and you follow, but you ultimately come to their point of view on your own.

For winners, it’s never about a single game, product, or performance. Winners know how to succeed over the long term because they are persistent. They agree with Mark Twain: “The inability to forget is infinitely more devastating than the inability to remember,” driving beyond failure in order to eventually succeed. Or, for those readers who prefer sports to literature, Wayne Gretzky said, “You miss one hundred percent of the shots you don’t take.”

Another attribute that winners all have in common is how much they hate to lose. This isn’t particularly surprising, but what stands out is how they visualize it. Like anyone in Room 101 in George Orwell’s 1984, they each have their own vivid picture in their heads of what it’s like to lose. Never at a loss for words, most winners had difficulty articulating how failing affected them emotionally, and several even refused to answer any questions about it, as though losing wasn’t in their mental dictionary, but they could clearly see it. For some, it’s a flashback to unpleasant memories of their childhood.* For others, it’s a specific moment in time that went horribly wrong. My personal favorite comes from tennis legend Jimmy Connors. “The worst thing about losing a tennis match was the handshake. I saw the expression on their face after they beat me, and I hated it. The humiliation.”

Winners never give up and they don’t accept defeat. They work as long and as hard as it takes to get the job done right. There isn’t a winner anywhere who doesn’t bring passion to what they do or to how they communicate. Passion is contagious. It’s getting others to see what you see, to imagine what you imagine—and then want to do what you do. It’s not about high volume for the sake of attention; it’s focused intensity. Winners employ “blue heat” because it lasts longer, burns hotter, and is more precise than a wild orange flame.

Winners rarely talk about the bottom line, profitability, or even success. Rather, they talk about a greater purpose—and invite you to join them. They identify and address a weakness or deficiency in the human experience—to fill a void others have yet to notice. They identify the impediments that derail others and move past them.

Jim Davidson, the co-CEO of Silver Lake, a global private investment firm specializing in emerging technology with approximately $14 billion in assets under management, has a slightly more nuanced take: “The difference between people who are wildly successful and the people who are just plain successful is not in answering the question, it’s figuring out which questions are worth asking. The guys that actually figure out what problems are worth working on, what questions are worth asking, are the ones that actually make it big.”

There’s one other experience a surprising number of the wealthiest people featured in this book have had in common: poverty. You wouldn’t know it by how they live today, but the lack of money, sometimes even basic daily sustenance, clearly scarred their youth and had a significant effect on their unrelenting drive for success. Herb Simon, the billionaire real estate developer responsible for the Mall of America and the Forum Shops, grew up so poor that his greatest fear as a young adult was “winding up all alone in a hotel room in my undershirt, no room service and no money.” The three-room apartment where he was raised in the Bronx was so small that he slept on a cot in his parents’ bedroom until his early teens. Said Simon, “We never had any money. I heard my mother worrying about money, and I sometimes went to sleep worrying about having no money.” In 2009, Simon ranked #317 on the Forbes list of wealthiest Americans, and he never stays at hotels that don’t offer room service.

Legendary Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz grew up in a single-bedroom basement apartment that had no refrigerator or freezer, but the challenges he faced as a youth played an important role in his lifelong mission to be the best. Of the three dozen interviews I did for this book, none left me more motivated than Coach Holtz. Perhaps it was because he was the only interview who served me a home-cooked meal. With an incredible 249 wins against just 132 losses, he was the only college football coach to lead six different programs to bowl games. Sitting in his den, surrounded by artifacts from an incredible career, it’s easy to understand why he’s not only one of the great icons of college sports but one of the most powerful speakers on the lecture circuit. When I asked him how someone from such a difficult financial background could achieve extraordinary success, he erupted. “I don’t think God put us on this earth to be ordinary,” he stressed, swinging his arms for emphasis:

Life is ten percent what happens to you and ninety percent how you respond to it. Show me someone who has done something worthwhile and I’ll show you someone who has overcome adversity. And one more thing. I didn’t have it tough growing up. I never thought of myself as poor. I don’t complain. Never have. Remember, most people don’t care about your problems, and the rest are glad you have them.

Basketball legend Jerry West had even more humble beginnings. Raised in a 500-person mining community in dirt-poor rural West Virginia, his situation was tragic. He didn’t want to talk about his childhood, but he acquiesced when I explained that his triumph over adversity would serve as an inspiration to others. I include it here as a lesson that anyone, regardless of where you start, has a chance to end up on top:

In my family, it was a struggle to survive. There were times when there wasn’t a quarter in the house. I’m not exaggerating. In those periods when my father wasn’t working, we had absolutely nothing. We never had a car. We never had a family vacation. I used to run everywhere. I remember seeing Forrest Gump and thinking how much like him I was. My parents had little or no education, and I had no means to go to school. But I had this love for basketball. I didn’t realize I had a skill, because I was so thin and so small. All I had was a strong work ethic and an imagination, and someone who showed an interest in me—and that was enough.

It was enough to earn him a position on the NBA All-Star team fourteen times in his fourteen seasons, and membership in the Basketball Hall of Fame. By the way, you’ve seen the official NBA logo with a player in silhouette? That’s Jerry West.

Steve Wynn, the billionaire creator of modern Las Vegas, didn’t grow up poor, but his father’s untimely death left the twenty-one-year-old college senior with more than $ 100,000 in debts and a bingo parlor that was losing money every week. Little has been written about this part of his life, and so I asked Wynn whether he ever considered declaring bankruptcy or just ignoring what his father owed. He paused, looked at me incredulously, and then responded in a soft but determined tone:

His last night, my father told me to write down some information that he wanted me to have. He said, “Everything’s going to be OK, but just in case, I owe your uncle Frank fifteen thousand dollars. And I owe so-and-so ten. Pay it. And mark this down.” And I sat there on the bedside and wrote down what he told me.

The next day, the doctors couldn’t get his heart started. I had just turned twenty-one and I had a ten-year-old brother. We were broke, and that was the worst possible thing that could have ever happened to me. But when my father told me to do this, to pay these debts, I just felt like I was doing what he told me. I was following his instructions. I never thought not to do it. My dad was the kind of a guy that always kept his word.

People that are really fundamentally honest don’t think about it that much. It just seems like the only thing to do. Not just the right thing to do; it’s the only thing to do. Don’t make too much fuss about being honest. You shouldn’t be proud of being honest. You should just be honest. You should be ashamed if you’re not.

I had my father’s partner his seventy-eight thousand dollars back by New Year’s. And then I got everybody paid within twelve months.

Now remember, this was a twenty-one-year-old kid whose father owed $100,000 in 1963 dollars. And he paid it all off in one year! That intensity and integrity was why he was able to convince bankers twice his age to give him the money he needed to start his business in Las Vegas and why, today, Forbes lists him as the 616th richest man in the world.

Allow me one more example because this is, by his own admission, particularly poignant. Andy Granatelli is in many ways the father of modern stock car auto racing. A born promoter, his legendary racing spectaculars gave birth to a multi-billion-dollar industry in the 1950s, and his teams won the coveted Indianapolis 500 in the late 1960s and 1970s thanks to engines that he helped design. A prolific automotive inventor and driver, his cars established and then broke hundreds of world records for speed and endurance, and he set many of the records himself. But he is best known as the CEO and spokesman for STP (“the racer’s edge”) corporation, which, thanks to his persistent promotions, was at one point almost as ubiquitous as Disney and Coca-Cola. He parlayed his love of cars into a fortune estimated at several hundred million dollars, but his financial condition wasn’t always so rosy:

I knew what it was like to starve, literally starve. I lived The Grapes of Wrath, the actual story you see in the movies where people loaded up these little junk cars to drive to California, only to go without a job. I never ever wanted to do that again. I actually believe to myself that I’m fat because I never want to go hungry. I keep my stomach full because I don’t want to die with an empty stomach.

At the time of my interview, Granatelli told me that he weighed more than 300 pounds, though he was well into a diet that would eventually shave more than 100 pounds off his large frame. Most winners would agree that money buys freedom, but Granatelli and others would also acknowledge that it can’t always buy freedom from fear.

Win demonstrates how and explains why winning without communicating is simply impossible. Every winner has prioritized and perfected their own lexicon. This book chronicles and dissects their successes, but more important, it equips you to apply their lessons to your life, your work, and your pursuit of the extraordinary.

My 2007 book, Words That Work, explored the power of specific words and phrases from a business, political, and personal perspective. What Americans Really Want . . . Really, from 2009, is an exposé of who we really are and what we really expect out of life. Win examines the common characteristics and linguistic strengths of the world’s most successful people—and how any American who wants to win can capture and utilize these communication secrets. This is not the first book to address how effective language has shaped the success of America’s finest entrepreneurs and CEOs, the marketing of our most successful products and services, and the cultures of our most successful corporations. What makes this book unique—and why it should matter to people who want to understand what separates the ordinary from the extraordinary—is that it spans the width and breadth of American life, from business to politics, from sports to entertainment. This book compiles key characteristics and language lessons from each industry and leader into a single collection, because we can learn greatness from the most extraordinary among us.


On Sale
Mar 1, 2011
Page Count
272 pages
Hachette Books

Dr. Frank Luntz

About the Author

Frank Luntz is one of the most respected communication professionals in America today. He has written, supervised, and conducted more than a thousand surveys and focus groups for corporate and public affairs clients here and abroad. He has developed campaigns for Merrill Lynch, Federal Express, AT&amp T, Pfizer, and McDonald’s. Dr. Luntz is the first resource media outlets turn to when they want to understand American voters. His recurring segments on MSNBC/ CNBC during the 2002 election cycle won an Emmy. He is a regular on Fox where he can be seen 1-3 times per week. Dr. Luntz lives in Alexandria, VA.

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