Understanding Influence: A Matter of National Security

By John M. Koval III

image_thumb[1] This post is inspired by your Nov. 1, 2010, post titled Wikileaks as an exemplar of Now Media, Part 1. I agree with you that anyone can be influential, and that it’s impractical to distinguish between consumers, creators, audiences, and media. That being said, we’re failing as a country to understand influence, not as a subjective skill, but as a system, or, perhaps more accurately, as a weapons system.

From a national security perspective, we have an obligation to know exactly how state and non-state actors, like Wikileaks founder Jules Assange, employ influence. In the 21st century, we’re fighting influence wars against traditional states, transnational networks, bloggers, media, and countless others. Yet, we don’t have a framework to fight these wars. It’s as if we’ve begun the Manhattan Project without the periodic table of chemical elements.

Our company has developed the first decision-system for information warfighters. In it, there are 25 influence strategies – so far as we can tell – that we colloquially refer to as "plays." We’ve organized them in The Standard Table of Influence Strategies, the first rational taxonomy for classifying the irreducible stratagems of influence. It was developed by our firm’s CEO, Alan Kelly, and explained in his book.

For example, we know that Assange is influential not because he controls Wikileaks, but because he’s mastered one particular influence stratagem, a play called the Mirror, defined as follows: Mirror Introduces new facts or information into a marketplace which contradicts a rival’s position or point of view. Like forcing someone to look at her own reflection, a Mirror typically prevents a rival from credibly pursuing its agenda. In Assange’s case, he’s powerful because he’s forcing a reconciliation of the private record with the public.

Why is this important?

Because when we define something – which is to say, to give it a name, a definition, and set of unique characteristics – we can dig deeper and work toward understanding it, which leads to bigger things, like predictive modeling and influence wargaming. We can also discover best practices to (1) counter a particular influence stratagem, (2) accelerate a particular influence stratagem, (3) group stratagems together to create more nuanced effects, (4) understand what stratagems work best to divert a rival’s intended course of action; frame an issue on favorable terms; lure a fence-sitting third-party to our side; and attack an enemy where it’s most vulnerable, etc. You can click here to see best practices for how one might counter Assange’s Mirror play.

For far too long, influence professionals – those operating in public affairs, public relations, diplomacy, advertising, sales, marketing, counter-insurgency communications, etc. – have been operating without standard systems. They’re like biologists operating without a phylogenetic tree or software engineers coding without a programming language. It’s chaos.

And yet, our government’s current ability to fight influence wars is much like a chemist without the periodic table. Accidents are bound to happen.

Add to this the fact that our armed forces, especially in Afghanistan and Iraq, are now being asked to win the hearts and mind of the local population, and the need becomes even more urgent. A Marine cannot tell you, by name, the stratagem that a villager just employed against him, much less the best practice for bending or blunting it. It’s bad enough that our influence warfighters – particularly in the State Department – are forced to play with one hand tied behind their back due to anachronistic laws like Smith-Mundt. But we don’t have to compound the problem. We must adopt standards.

It’s irresponsible that we’re not, at the highest levels of government, deploying such an influence-based weapons system. It’s a matter of national security. We must adopt and drive a lingua franca and decision-system to manage and win the other half of the wars and conflicts that consume us–the influence wars that clearly we’re losing. Through the standardization of influence, we’ll increase our ability, by an order of magnitude, to control, manage, and ultimately, win, the information wars of the 21st century, whether against al-Qaeda, Wikileaks, or tomorrow’s next great threat.

John M. Koval III is a certified consultant at Playmaker Systems, LLC, a Bethesda-based management consultancy and software development firm. For a full biography, click here.

Guests posts are the opinions of the respective authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of MountainRunner.us. They are published here to further the discourse on America’s global engagement.

This post was solicited by me because I find the Playmaker model intriguing. I’m interested in your thoughts and comments, both on the post and the Playmaker concept.

See also:

26 thoughts on “Understanding Influence: A Matter of National Security

  1. With all due respect to the author, this is exactly what the government does not need.The only thing that is being standardized here is waste and ineffectiveness.
    I’m sure Playmaker Systems will make a lot of money winning over naive psyops officers and government knobs who have never stepped one foot outside their base in Afghanistan or Iraq.

  2. I would be quite surprised if the author of this blog ever practiced public diplomacy in the field, where the last thing practitioners of the trade need is “a system, or, perhaps more accurately, … a weapons system.”

  3. Perhaps the author can explain how a Marine in Arghandab would employ this jargon filled “influence-based weapons system” against a local villager?If anything is “irresponsible”, it’s this advertisement for Playmaker posing as a thoughtful post on influence.
    The USG does not need a new “lingua franca” for influence; or what is basically a standardization of gibberish. It needs to stop spending money on “systems” like these that have no measure of effect or relevance to what is happening on the ground in places like Afghanistan.

  4. As long as people think of communications as a weapon, they’ve lost the opportunity to influence. You can use deception and misinformation as weapons, and these may look like influence in the short term, but they are not. To influence, you have to engage in enough of a duplex conversation that the other party might be persuaded. Simplex volleys of strategems will not change minds … except, perhaps, in the negative.

  5. So, John III, “the system” is “not so complicated” — which makes it, in my view, all the more unreliable, if not dangerous. Need I note that the experience of life, which some consider a much better guide than “systems,” happens to be complicated? Best, John Brown

  6. Allaying MisconceptionsThese are great comments all around, well-founded and understandably conveyed. The status-quo is a difficult thing to break with, so as with any fresh approach to solving a problem, push-back is to be expected.
    S—I’ll take odds with your assessment that this system couldn’t be taught to a Marine. The system is eminently teachable. It’s currently being taught at the post-grad, grad, and undergrad level, at global corporations and within major research universities across the country.
    As for jargon, if you’ve spent any time around the military – which I’m sure you have – you’ll know that they already have lingua francas for everything—their entire vocabulary consists of jargon. I’d be willing to bet that a PFC knows somewhere north of 100 pieces of “jargon,” and a commissioned officer, over the course of his or her career, has committed to memory hundreds, maybe thousands, of acronyms and terminology.
    It’s not unreasonable to expect a government officer, whether in the military or at the State Department, to learn a lingua franca for influence, especially one that only consists of 25 units. If they’re being asked to fight wars based on influence and rhetoric, which is what “winning hearts and minds” is really about, they’ll have to. The mission depends on it.
    S—We’re definitely in agreement about wasteful spending. I’m incensed with what money is being spent on at the moment—programs that consist of trying to measure fanciful notions like tone, sentiment and reputation. These whimsical concepts aren’t fundamental to proactively driving agendas, countering negative propaganda, or accelerating positive developments. What we need to better understand are the underlying strategies that lead toward competitive advantage, and if we’re good enough, victory.
    For example, if you do a content aggregation of Topic X in Theatre Y, you might find that 80 percent of negative sentiment comes from the employment of one stratagem, say, the Recast play. If you can home in on adversarial Recasts being the crux of the problem, you can coordinate programs to counter the Recast at multiple levels—and even, over time, across multiple government departments. For example, in a military setting:

  7. Marines could be ordered to run Filters, and be instructed, under no circumstances, to run Call Outs.
  8. PIOs could be asked to run Bear Hugs and then pivot to a Screen, which adds symbolic resonance, but to avoid running any Red Herrings.
  9. Policymakers and top-brass can run Challenges at the highest level.
    At the moment, we have no framework to issue these orders, which is too bad. The military, as an institution that, above all else, relies on command and control, urgently needs such systems. But we won’t be able to win information wars until we have common grounding, a lingua franca, with definable rows and seat numbers.
    If I could invite you to spend fifteen minutes on the system, which is available free for public consumption at http://www.plays2run.com/table, I’m sure you’ll realize it’s not so complicated.
    Kind regards,
    John M. Koval, III
  10. Mr. Koval, the more time I spend looking at your “Playmaker Table”, the less convinced I am. Perhaps the table might be a useful tool for a high school debate class, but as far as institutionalizing this amongst our troops and/or diplomats as a way of responding to our enemy, well it’s is just plain ridiculous.I can just imagine employing this with one of my Afghan colleagues:
    “Jamshid, I’m truly sorry to hear about the recent killing of the District Governor along with six of his staff by the Taliban. But here’s how we’re going to respond. First we’ll Bear Hug em, maybe even Disco the sons of bitches, I haven’t decide yet. Then if they take the Bait, we’ll roll out the Fiat, and then just when they’re not looking we bring out the Crazy Ivan. Oh yeah!”
    Sorry John, I couldn’t resist, but I hope you realize how clownish all this really is. Afganistan doesn’t need new influence weapon systems. You can’t reduce the Taliban propaganda campaign down to a series of “plays”. It’s much more nuanced and requires individuals, preferably Afghans who understand the target audience and the right means to communicate.
    I truly hope this never sees the light of day in Afghanistan.

  11. Mr. Brown,You’re correct. There’s no substitute for real life. We have to acknowledge that all the influence industries — diplomacy (practiced covertly and publicly), advertising, etc. — are products of the social sciences.
    As such, just because we’re dealing with the social sciences doesn’t mean we can’t seek rational frameworks to better understand them.
    If I may, I’d invite you to snoop around The Standard Table of Influence Strategies. As an accomplished diplomat yourself, I’d be willing to bet you recognize more than half of these strategies, primarily because you’ve employed them over your career, either directly or through surrogates. For example:

  12. If you’ve ever agreed with someone unexpectedly in order to bridge to a larger point, you probably employed the Bear Hug stratagem.
  13. If you’ve ever made a comparison to an historic event to deepen the meaning of your statement, you’ve run a Screen play.
  14. If you had to correct a misconception, but it was politically untenable to do so given your post or title, you maybe enlisted a Proxy to run a Mirror.
    How can it be wrong to know these things? And how can it be wrong to know that there are preferred methods for countering or accelerating these stratagems?
    I’m looking at a bookshelf right now with hundreds of books on it, from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War to Hellen Davis’ 21 Laws of Influence to Kissinger’s Diplomacy. These works form an important link to how we understand influence and strategy, but not one of them offers a codified framework that serves as a decision-support system. Anecdotes are important, but they’re not enough. I think we owe it to ourselves, and our professions, to know more.
    As a society, culture, and country, it’s far more dangerous not to know than to know. When we know, than we can draw clear lines about what’s ethically, morally, and legally acceptable. Without, we’re practicing alchemy.
    Kind regards,
  15. The following comment:”It’s bad enough that our influence warfighters – particularly in the State Department – are forced to play with one hand tied behind their back due to anachronistic laws like Smith-Mundt.”
    is one of the more over the top statements I’ve ever read on this blog. It certainly betrays a lack of understanding of exactly what Smith-Mundt is. For the reader’s benefit, Smith-Mundt of 1948 is the implementing legislation that creates the justification for all U.S. government informational and cultural activities abroad. One small provision of this Act of Congress prohibits the State Department (not other agencies BTW) from disseminating overseas propaganda domestically.This hardly ties one hand behind the back of the State Department! A far greater hindrance is the State Department’s internal culture which is elitist, secretive and rigid (all of which fits traditional diplomacy to a T) instead of egalitarian, open and creative which is what is needed in pubic diplomacy.

  16. Bill,Your criticism is well-heeded. Perhaps I spoke too strongly in characterizing Smith-Mundt’s limitations, or lack thereof, within the State Department. Thanks for the clarification.
    When I speak of being “playing with one hand tied behind their back,” I’m tugging at a larger issue–that those whom employ influence on behalf of American interests abroad ought to have all options at their disposal, so long as it’s legal and ethical. This includes running luring plays that dare actors to take action against their best interest. Similarly, we need to be able to employ attacking stratagems that quickly shift the competitive landscape. We even need to be able to employ diverting strategies that send our rivals off-course.
    Maybe it’s not appropriate for public diplomacy officers to run Call Outs? Or maybe only under circumstances? Or maybe in Bahrain but not Bhutan? I don’t know, but I’d be curious to know what plays you think are in-bounds and which are not from a public diplomacy perspective.
    Interesting that, in your mind, the system might benefit a high school debate class (ages 14-18), who engage in rhetorical chess, but that somehow, it couldn’t be taught to soldiers engaged in COIN ops (ages 18-26, more or less) who are being asked to “win hearts and minds,” (i.e., engage in rhetorical chess).
    Can you have it both ways?
    If these strategies offend anyone on this blog, I apologize, but understand that they’ve been employed on the battlefield, during diplomatic negotiations, and during elections for millennia. All we’ve done is organize them into a rational framework so that students and practitioners of influence can better understand the cumulative effects of their actions and their likely consequences.
    Kind regards to all,

  17. John, you say:”Interesting that, in your mind, the system might benefit a high school debate class (ages 14-18), who engage in rhetorical chess, but that somehow, it couldn’t be taught to soldiers engaged in COIN ops (ages 18-26, more or less) who are being asked to “win hearts and minds,” (i.e., engage in rhetorical chess). Can you have it both ways?”
    No, you can’t have it both ways. You’re asking our military and diplomats to adopt a language that that has no relevance to the issues on the ground. Influence strategy in places like Afghanistan is not comparable to a high school debate. There are nuances that the PlayerMaker table doesn’t account for, such as culture, language, tribal hierarchies, and most importantly, the Taliban’s MO: propaganda by deed.
    Having a messaging cheat-sheet will not solve a Marines ability to counter IEDs, prevent GIRoA officials from being assassinated, stem the growth of poppies or if anything, win hearts and minds. You don’t win hearts and minds through a series of contrived, pre-formulated message stratagems. Good communications does not come from a formula or a table. It comes from knowing ones audience, managing failure and capitalizing on good policy. The PlayMaker table encourages amateur communicators to be lazy and distracted, while providing a systematic justification for bad communications and planning.
    John, clearly you’re passionate about this product and hopeful that it will one day pepper the lexicon of future soliders and diplomats. It’s also clear that you haven’t spent much time in the field employing the use of this table. If you did, you would have provided examples by now. As such, I believe companies like Playmaker, that wish to sell expensive software solutions to our troops and diplomats, while offering no proof that it has any affect, are doing the tax payer and people serving in Afghanistan and elsewhere, a great disservice.
    I apologize if I’ve come off a bit too brash, however for years I’ve watched the USG spend billions on ineffective and counterproductive strategic communication “solutions” from individuals and companies that have no understanding of the country or people they’re are tasked to influence. Playmaker strikes me as one of those “solutions”.

  18. S,Here’s how our dialogue has progressed so far. I ran a “Bait,” to lure you responding with an emotional, rather than a rational response. You ignored my “Bait” and countered with a “Deflect” by dismissing my play and continuing with your attacking “Call Out” of the Playmaker System. That tells me something about you – that you are not easily distracted, and also more informed than a simple naysayer. Now, I’m going to run a “Mirror,” and tell you that you are actually engaging in one of the manners the Playmaker System Standard Table predicts. Wittingly or unwittingly, you are already using the system you initially decried. I’m looking forward to your response…and I imagine it will tell me more about you.
    We’ll see what it is, but I’ve already formed my hypothesis.
    The bigger point here is that the Playmaker System can serve as a tool to codify exchanges and predict responses, thus enabling the practitioner to look two to three moves ahead and set their opponent up to react in a predictable way. Is that innovative? Clearly it isn’t to you, but it could very well serve to inform others (say, for example, service members operating in a COIN environment) who may welcome response options based upon real-life experiences. Of course, it is nothing without the infusion of critical thinking. No mental tool is effective without critical thinking.
    As Dr. Rowland has said, we must develop influence capacity as a national security imperative. More scientific research is something that could only serve to improve this system. I’d prefer to see someone improve upon the Playmaker System or introduce an alternative solution rather than just sit on the sidelines and criticize though.
    Again, respectfully,
    Jim Gregory

  19. S,I find it a bit abusive that you throw your opinions around as if you are some sort of expert and then hide behind a single letter sign-on moniker. I am very interested in learning about your experiences since you feel so free to disparage something you have not taken the time to learn about at all. John at least has the courage to present a proposed solution to understanding influence AND put his name on it. His credentials are easily available on the Playmaker Systems website, to which he has provided a link. Perhaps instead of immediately bashing something you do not fully understand, you should take some time to more fully understand it. I believe that we all would benefit from learning and listening more rather than attacking those whom we do not immediately understand.
    Jim Gregory

  20. Bill, if I may, I’d like to clarify your comment on the Smith-Mundt Act. You’re 100% correct about the purpose of the Act and of the small clause of domestic dissemination by the department, as of 1948 that is. Since 1972, however, that clause has become a firewall preventing access to material. I agree that ‘one hand tied behind the back’ is extreme, but the clause as it exists now – and is interpreted, which as you probably know is not necessarily the same – does both limit State’s activities (and DoD’s, but this part of the argument has become nearly moot as Defense has come to realize a Title 22 law does not really, despite popular belief, apply to Title 10 activities) and, perhaps more importantly, inhibits knowledge and understanding of what State (and the USG) does, which leads to limited appreciation and constituency. To use the boxing metaphor, which ‘one hand tied behind the back’ is, we can better saw the Act causes pulled punches and hides punches that make contact (as well as those that complete miss). To work this metaphor more, the Act hides our boxer to audiences within US borders and limits our boxer from eliciting support and action from within the US (ex. digital conversations not run out of ECA are challenged run into this wall, which I suspect you know).Now, back to the regularly scheduled programming….

  21. Jim,My credentials and identity are irrelevant. Koval made some rather audacious claims about the product he represents. I have challenged him on those claims and asked for evidence of the tables effectiveness in the field of COIN and public diplomacy. Who I am, or what I know should not affect that response.
    You told me to to “take some time to more fully understand it [the Playmaker table]”, which I did. I spent 15 minutes reviewing the table, as Mr. Koval suggested, and came away laughing at how silly it was. Playmaker has imagined a series of catch phrases to describe a number of rhetorical and cognitive tools (known to most people as critical thinking) to describe different scenarios. But here’s the thing, the debate we’re having now would have occurred with or without the Playmaker table — I’m assuming you didn’t employ one of the tables elements to craft your response, did you?
    Take a tour of the Playmaker blog and you’ll notice that it doesn’t offer anything innovative. Rather, it seeks to explain events through it’s own warped thinking. One post translates PM Camron’s latest visit to Turkey, into Playmaker speak and later went on to say:
    “All plays accounted for. Could it be that French President Nicholas Sarkozy and others in the anti-Turkey bloc are sneaking a peek at the Standard Table?”
    While I’m guessing (hoping) this comment was tongue-and-cheek, it speaks volumes to how this company has convinced itself that they’ve decoded some great communications mystery. I mean, until the Playmaker Table came around, communications experts were just a bunch of manatees swimming around a tank-full of idea balls (http://cart.mn/aPJs2i)
    In other instances the blog translates Sun Tzu and the Gosspel of Luke into Playmaker speak. Fascinating. So when Jesus rose from the dead, would we consider that a Crazy Ivan or a Peacock?
    The blog goes on and on interpreting events through it’s own concocted language. It’s effectively become the Esperanto of influence, only not as sophisticated.
    Jim, sorry if you find these words offensive, I’m simply “Calling Out” Mr. Koval, as is suggested I do in the Playmaker Table. Maybe had it not been for the table I would never been inspired to write this critique. Thanks Playmaker!

  22. John,Pretend an errent missile from an ISAF airstrike killed 15 civilians and wiped out hectares of soon to be harvested agriculture in Panjwai District. A Taliban shadow government has quickly moved into the area offering money to replace lost earnings and swift Islamic justice to bring the area under control. Local Pashtun villagers are claiming that the new shadow government is better and more efficient at solving their problems than corrupted GIRoA leaders and ISAF troops.
    Now pretend I’m Rear Admiral Smith, head of Strat Comms for ISAF. You’ve got me for five minutes to pitch your companies ideas. Explain to me how a platoon operating daily foot patrols in Panjwai District would employ the Standards Table and why your company has the experience and knowledge to support this.

  23. The problem with the Playmaker approach is that it is not based on proper science.Aside from the ethical concerns that have been expressed – and I agree with them to an extent, but also Koval III is right in that we need to develop influence capacity as a national security imperative – there are other concerns over the efficacy of the proposed influence stratagems.
    The stratagems are not scientifically validated, or at least not in any way that I would call scientific. They are relevant, and they are based in some evidence, and they are intuitively appealing. However, we are dealing with a tremendously serious situation here and we cannot afford to work in this arena on a loose footing.
    I see things quite differently. The use of Influence Strategies, or Intervention Strategies, occurs only at a mid-stage of the process. Intervention Strategies are aspects of the influence process that are deployed on the basis of audience-based field data, not as prepackaged solutions.
    Without in-depth planning and problem exploration, scientifically data-driven Target Audience Analysis, and a fully-integrated Audience-Based Measure of Effectiveness, the deployment of influence is reduced to a creative act with a few potentially useful stratagems in its armoury.
    Given the importance of influence and related disciplines to 21st Century warfare and national security, it is unacceptable to base our approach on such whimsical notions. We need real science and we need it now.
    The coalition are being outwitted in the information game, and this is too perilous a final prospect to be content with. We must take this seriously.

  24. Dr. Rowland, 100 pc agreed. I should have practiced similar brevity.John, thanks for that. In response, I defer to Dr. Rowland’s last post.

  25. Dr. Rowland,Your points are fair. However, I’m not sure that proper science need be a requisite for such a system to be effective, (although it would certainly be nice). What gives us confidence to offer up the system is that it’s based on real-life experience (often, but not always, just as good as proper science).
    The system itself is incredibly stable (more so, than perhaps, we would have even thought when we began devising it). It’s been taught and tested at major research universities and deployed successfully across global Fortune 100 corporations, spanning their integrated communications functions and uniting cultures and continents.
    Surely, proper science will offer up complementary or, perhaps, competing systems. But I’m not sure we have the luxury to wait. We used scientific discourse when researching the system, and it definitely gave us grounding. But ultimately, no one — in academia or otherwise — had yet come even close to codifying influence and providing a taxonomy to understand it (with perhaps Marwell & Schmitt coming the closest). If they had, we wouldn’t have seen fit to develop the system.
    Thanks for you interest and comments,

  26. S,”Culture, language, policy,” yes, these are all aspects that contribute toward good communication strategy. We detail a great bit of them here, in the Factors at Play resource. It’s pretty comprehensive, but we may have missed one or two somewhere. Give them a look, and if you see something that’s missing, let us know.
    By your own line of argument, you acknowledge that we’re fighting information wars, but you seem to think it’s acceptable not to arm information warfighters with frameworks that enable them to better fight these wars. No, nothing will ever be as important as body armor or IED-resistant tanks. But so long as “winning hearts and minds” is central to COIN ops, we need information-based weapons systems, against which messages can be stress-tested and with which orders can be given. We cannot allow past failures or jaded perspectives to get in the way.
    Remember, the vast majority of people, soldiers included, aren’t God-given communicators. They shy away from rhetorical situations because they lack confidence or rudimentary knowledge of how to engage. And that’s OK in civilian life. But in COIN ops, when the mission becomes, “win hearts and minds,” we can’t shy away or dis-engage. If we do, we lose.
    In conventional warfare, we don’t use weapons without testing them first. And we don’t send soldiers into the field with guns before letting them practice. Why should it be different in information wars?
    We therefore need frameworks against which to teach, understand, depict, and predict. Without such frameworks, we’re asking soldiers to be rhetorical guns but not providing them the bullets. That’s (1) dangerous, (2) not fair to the soldiers, and most importantly, (3) counter-productive to winning the war.
    Kind regards,

  27. S,I cannot help but address some of your points. I’m struck by the arrogant perspective from which you argue. Throughout your entire discourse, you offer no alternative. Where I come from, we call your types “blow-hards.” Whether borne out of ignorance or jealousy, if we operated according to your philosophy, we’d never solve problems or make progress.
    I spent some time on the Playmaker’s website, and find the concept intriguing, particularly because you don’t need a PhD to understand it (and probably to use it). With all due respect to Dr. Rowland, whose points are completely justified, if we waited for “proper science” to solve the world’s problems, there’d be endless debate in academic journals with no practical application in real-life settings. While I value academia tremendously — and think it has a very important role to play in strategic communications — I’ve recently become inured to intellectuals debating endlessly but offering up no tangible solution, which is why I think this Playmaker model is so interesting. I’m most impressecd by the corporations using it. If there’s no substitue for real-life, then perhaps this is a model worth considering.

  28. S,Quickly, if I were Rear Admiral Smith, I’d be able to give an order to my foot-soldiers: “Gentlemen, what happened in Panjwai was tragic. Under no circumstances should you attempt to Recast it. Your order is to run Bear Hugs. Leave the framing and attacking to PIOs and surrogates. It will mean more coming from them.”
    Now, what I just detailed may seem simplistic to you, but that’s the beauty (and why foot-soldiers would benefit most). It’s an intuitive lexicon. The play Bear Hug can be quickly accessed by the foot-soldiers prior to setting out on patrol via one of the myriad electronic devices already in their possession. They can reference Bear Hug and anticipate how it might be countered by angry local villagers, so they might think “three plays out.”
    That simplistic example is an order of magnitude better than what we currently have. Will it convince local villagers not to support the Taliban? Maybe. Maybe not. But it’s a small step toward winning the larger battle, which will be simultaneously fought on different levels and across multiple departments, State, DoD, CIA, etc.

  29. All:Real-life experience led us to believe that the sun revolved round the earth, whereas science under Copernicus revealed otherwise. Experience may tell us what Influence Stratagems work in Iraq; but that does not transfer to Afghanistan.
    Only Target Audience Analysis can do the latter – and that is a scientific process.
    It is not a matter of waiting for proper science to validate what will work, but deploying proper scientific processes and thinking in the field in order to measure and to understand what will be effective – and to measure the effect of the influence initiative.
    Without that, we are waving a wet finger in the wind. I work at the Behavioural Dynamics Institute and we have a scientific process for TAA and strategic communication that has been used by military units and governments all over the world, and has produced quantifiable results.
    This is not a matter of intellectual debates with no practical application: this is doing science in a manner that a doctor would practice medicine in a conflict zone. It is grounded in evidence and a scientific process. That has to be a good thing.
    I agree that the Playmaker concept is intriguing. As I said earlier though, it is just a part of the overall process, not the entire influence toolkit that can ensure we get it right.

  30. All:I’ve enjoyed the exchange, and wish to add a few thoughts and facts on the system and its development:
    1. I defer to “S” in that we are at or over the line of propriety in making our case. We are indeed a commercial organization whose services and tools are based on this system, so we must (and do) acknowledge our business interests. What I’d like the commenters to consider, however, is that it is my own commercial experiences that have given rise to the system.
    2. To Dr. Rowland’s regret that the system and its strategems are not based on science, this is something also of which I am keenly aware. To the extent that science has been applied, I will argue only that it is the product of thoughtful observation and extensive critical thinking and testing. Often, in young fields of interest, one cannot test the units of a field until we first define those units. Our system is one attempt to do just that and we readily concede the need to verify the accuracy, if not the sheer existence, of the proposed 25 stratagems.
    3. That the system cannot stand alone is spot-on. It is indeed improved and made more effective through applied protocols that identify relevant audiences, whether by circumstance, region, religion, position, culture, laws, customs, race, etc. Suffice it to say, I believe that targeting systems might likewise benefit from a system that articulates the underlying influence strategies of targeted audiences.
    4. What motivated me to develop this framework was my own frustration that the functions of influence (which of course include strategic communication and public diplomacy) have such notable power but, when compared to discplines of equal import, cannot even identify the irreducible units of practice. Chemists, biologists, musicians, and accountants can. Marketers, advertisers, diplomats, and PIOs can’t. My considered view is that these “units” are likely strategies — influence stratagies to be precise. They constitute a discipline one might call Influence Strategy. I see this as a welcome complement to the developed models of strategy in business, operations and warfare, where much is known of tangible assets. Now, however, we have a model that begins to explain the strategies of intangibles and that, I am sure, is where we find ourselves in the necessary effort to win hearts and minds.
    Thank you for your critiques and comments.
    Alan Kelly
    CEO, Playmaker Systems, LLC
    Author, The Elements of Influence

  31. In the interests of full disclosure, which I consider very important, I am a retired Foreign Service Officer. I spent my career in the U.S. Information Agency. I was detailed to the Department of State as President Clinton’s Special Envoy for Somalia in 1992/93. I come late to this discussion but it is so alarming that I decided that I have to say something. John Koval mentions that our armed forces in Afghanistan, and I would add Iraq, “Are now being asked to win the hearts and mind of the local population.” But does anyone think or believe that they have been trained for this task? I would relate one example from my experience as President Clinton’s Special Envoy for Somalia which may shed light on what our troops are trained to do. The U.N. Secretary General’s Special Representative for Somalia at the time was Retired U.S. Navy Admiral Jonathan Howe. He succeeded in getting our administration to send a group of some 400 Special Operations troops under the command of Maj Gen William Garrison to Somalia in the summer of 1993. The primary mission for this Special Ops group was to capture the warlord Mohammed Hassan Farah “Aideed”, who was then murderously resisting the by then U.N.-led efforts to return Somalia to some modicum of security and civility so that humanitarian relief could be provided to the beleagured Somali population. In briefing Gen. Garrison for his mission, Adm. Howe said that he hoped that the Special Ops command in Mogadishu would be able to quickly capture Aideed in a “surgical” operation. Gen. Garrison’s response was (and here I am paraphrasing since a number of years have passed) “Admiral, when you talk like that you scare the s___ out of me. What we are trained to do is kill people and damage or destroy property and there is nothing at all surgical about that.” Gen. Garrison was trying to emphasize the limits of what he and his troops could do as well as the possibility for extensive collateral damage.It is had to believe that Mr. Koval can imagine that our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq are capable of undertaking the complicated mission of “winning hearts and minds.” They are still trained, as they need to be, to kill people and damage and/or destroy property. There is no time in training schedules for them to undertake education concerning “an influence-based weapons system” though even with that training the application of this sort of tactic/practice in the conditions which our troops confront in Afghanistan and Iraq now would be preposterous. Mr. Koval needs to embed on the ground and in combat gear with our troops to be able to understand this. But I don’t believe that he really is this naive. He should also not be so naive as to believe that observers do not see this for what it is: an attempt to capture a hefty piece of our defense budget for his company.
    Finally, Mr. Koval says that what we are doing now by not providing our soldiers with “rhetorical bullets” is unfair to them. But what is really unfair is for us to be placing our troops in harm’s way in this manner. We are asking them to undertake responsibilities for which they are unprepared. There is no way to prepare an armed force for these tasks. This operation is a bridge too far for us – for our nation. We do not have the knowledge of the local situations and languages needed nor the number of troops needed to have any hope of success. What is fair to our troops and our people is for us to withdraw from Afghanistan as soon as possible. There are other actors closer to this region who have a vested interest in seeing Afghanistan move toward some modicum of peace. They wil not act seriously on this until we are no longer on the front lines there. We are indispensible to this task but in support of the countries of the region who want peace not as the principal actor.

  32. Influence strategies are not tactics. Your average Soldier, Sailor, Marine or Airman in the field has no need of a strategy. They need tactics. They may get your strategy, but the implementation of it is a whole’nother thing.Honestly, your ideas are best suited to help give a basic premise by which ‘boots can understand what they are facing in the field outside of the kinetic.
    However, your notion that we are failing to understand influence resonates with this Sailor. Your ideas are close to being good. They just seem incomplete.

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