Frequently Asked Questions

What’s a play?

Influence Play /infloŏəns plā/ n.  1 : A stratagem, irreducibly unique, employed by a person, organization or surrogate to improve mutual or competitive advantage through methods and means of influence. (Syn. Play, Influence Strategy, Influence Stratagem).

Collectively, the 23 plays of The Playmaker System form the Taxonomy of Standard Influence Strategies, a complete taxonomy of the most basic stratagems in communication, social media, marketing, sales, politics and warfighting, among other influence industries.  You can learn more on our Playmaker System page or by reading our whitepaper.

So give me an example of a play?

Read any newspaper.  Look at any ad.  A company is doing a big product launch – that’s called a Peacock.  A politician is bending his opponent’s prose – that’s a Recast.  A cable TV network is mimicking a rival’s reality TV program – it’s a Crowd.

How did you find these plays?

The first influence play to be documented, the Call Out, was observed at a technology conference in Paris in 1995, when a former client, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, used it against Microsoft CEO Bill Gates.  In that moment, we realized that the moves and maneuvers of influence could be thought of as irreducibly unique, which sparked our quest to discover and classify them.  This culminated in the publication  of The Elements of Influence in 2006 and the updated Playmaker System 2.0 in 2012.

How does a play make it into the influence table?

To qualify as a play in the Taxonomy of Influence Plays, a candidate influence play must meet these four criteria:

IRREDUCIBLE  The stratagem must be completely reduced to embody a single strategic principle, such as the notion of reordering as found in the Recast play or of hinting as found in the Ping.

FIXED  It shall exhibit characteristics that are static and may be subject to modification by such variables and conditions as listed in the Factors of Influence resource.  Think of how verbs are modified by adverbs (ran vs. ran quickly).

CAUSAL  It shall effect outputs, outtakes and outcomes such as messages, opinions and decisions.

UNIQUE  That single principle may not be reasonably described by any combination of stratagems.  The common strategy of smoking out a competitor, for example, is well explained through the joining of the Jam and Bait.  Thus, a smoke out is not reduced and, accordingly, not eligible

Learn more about the ins-and-outs of influence strategy in our white paper series.

Influence Full CycleWhat do you mean by the term play action?

Play Action is the phrase we give to describe the moves and countermoves that occur between influencers. Any and every marketplace is awash with the games of playmakers. It’s a competition of contrary and complementary strategies between you, your rivals, allies and independents. To put it another way, think of Play Action as the movie and plays as the scenes. It’s what you need to know to understand, fully, the nature of your role and how you, your own story, and the characters around you are interacting. See Standard Cycles of Influence for details.

By publishing this system, aren’t you publishing the secret code?  And if everyone has it, won’t the result be gridlock?

In theory, yes.  But in practice, no.  Every marketplace is infinitely nuanced, and every player is infinitely unique.  Because conditions, capabilities and context vary so widely it’s not possible in any practical way to achieve playmaker stalemates.  We do acknowledge the possibility that one player, knowing another’s habits and preferences in the business of influencemaking, might execute the perfect counter.  There is the WWII story of U.S. Gen. George Patton lambasting his German nemesis in retreat, “Rommel…you magnificent bastard, I read your book!”

Aren’t you taking the fun out of marketing (or sales, PR, advertising, lobbying, etc.)?  Doesn’t your system stifle creativity?

Our experience suggests that The Playmaker System enhances, not squelches, creativity.  While it might seem to turn something that’s cool into something that’s clinical, it also helps focus influencers on the matter at hand.  Take the example of a creative brainstorm — fun stuff .  With our management system, you know more surely what it is that you are brainstorming.  If there are, after all, 24 unique plays in the human practice of influence, then it’s better to know which ones are relevant.

Hey…aren’t you giving away my trade secrets?

Yes.  But that shouldn’t make anyone nervous.  The moves and motives of influencers are too important to be kept secret from influencees.  The industries of communications, social media, marketing, sales, politics and even information warfare are victims of their own success and, as such, there is an obligation to state the rules by which the game is played.  If we aren’t transparent ourselves, governments will do it for us.

But if you publish the secret code, aren’t you putting the professionals who practice influence at risk?  Aren’t you costing them their livelihoods?

Not the good ones.  Like every maturing practice or discipline, the best practitioners look constantly for ways to be better, more efficient and competitively advantaged.  For savvy influencers, this system offers powerful insight into the gamesmanship of rivals and the preferences of collaborators.  It’s a recipe for winning.  It’s a codecracker to success.  Smart users will put the system to work.

This system seems really complex.

So are smartphones.  So are airplanes.  But they do amazing things.  The Playmaker System has taken something that is ageless and, today, ubiquitous, and brought it into focus.  At first blush, it looks like a lot of moving parts.  But there are 26 letters in the alphabet and only 24 plays in the system.  Find one play you know — like the Filter or Ping — and you’ll realize that what you do today is already inside.  You’ll find that it’s merely describing what you do, but putting it into a framework and lexicon you can use with others.  Chemists have the periodic table of 119 elements.  Thankfully, yours has 24.

Can more than one play be identified in a single situation?

Yes.  It’s easy, for example, for one person to decode a Mirror and another a Call Out when de-constructing the plays of debate.  Both stratagems are designed to expose another player.  The same can happen with Lanterns and Trumps.  For instance, in the setting of breaking embarrassing news, each strategy is geared to beat someone or something to the punch.  Influence strategies (i.e., plays) are rooted in social science, so there are overlaps.  And because context is always key, it’s easy for one play to be seen, say as a Mirror in one context and Call Out in another.  The downside, of course, is that it’s possible to read two or three plays into a single situation.  The upside is that its two or three fully described stratagems, not 24.

Some of these plays seem unethical, like the Decoy, Jam or Bait.  This system’s not for me.

Indeed, but these are plays that exist in every marketplace.  While we don’t encourage the application of unethical strategies — or to educate users to that end — their existence can’t and shouldn’t be swept under the rug.  By describing them richly, in fact, is to expose their existence and uses.  Ignore them at your peril.

The system seems contrived.

We hope you’ll take a closer look.  It’s the product of extensive literature review, expert interviews, market testing with Fortune 200 companies and teaching at major research universities.  Influence has existed since Plato.  Why no one has seen fit to organize it into a taxonomy, much less an ontology, amazes us.  What we’ve done is give a housing to what’s always existed and, in fact, for our work we’ve received a U.S. Patent with European patents pending.  Think of the Playmakers as archaeologists and our system as a fossil.   What you get, we believe, is the Rosetta Stone of influence.  We dusted it off, but we didn’t carve it.

Are you trying to turn something into a science that’s not meant to be scientific?  These elements of influence seem arbitrary.

All of this work falls in the realm of a discipline we call Influence Strategy — the practice of influencemakers, or playmakers, if you will.  Further, it is all bounded by the social sciences where hard lines are rare.  So, yes, the practice of running plays is not like the practice of mixing chemicals or coding DNA.  But there is an urgent opportunity to define boundaries, perhaps that are grey more than black and white, but that can be discerned consistently, reliably and as a standard of use across industries, governments and cultures.

These plays, as you call them, seem to be for the zero-sum-game types.  My approach is purely collaborative.  Where’s the trust play?  Where’s the reputation play?  Those are the plays I run.

You may be mistaking your objectives with your strategies.  Trust and reputation are what you seek, and our experience suggests that they are constructed with and achieved through influence plays. If your M.O. is to collaborate, to achieve the win-win, we contend you’re running plays that help you do this.  Look carefully at the strategies we call the Test, Ping, Screen, Recast, Reflect, Mirror, Crowd and Challenge.  These are the plays we often see in the strategy signatures of collaborative influencers, perhaps like you.  For a deep dive on this subject, read Alan Kelly’s peer review article, Dancing With the Giant or view his video debate here with communication scholar James Grunig.

This is clever, but it’s just not what I do.

It is if you’re in the businesses of communications, social media, marketing, sales, politics, information warfare or any other profession or practice that involves words, messages, symbols, stances and causes.  You are an influencer.  And you are running plays, all the time.  As such, you may need a standard by which to recognize the true nature of your work and to have at your disposal a standard system by which manage and measure it.

Are these plays you’ve described applicable across cultures?  What about languages?  And age groups?

The system and its plays have been scrutinized and practiced on five major continents and across major industries by multiple professions.  By virtue of where the system was conceived — in Silicon Valley and Washington, D.C. — some of the play names have an American character, but through six years of testing in business and academia, we find that the plays we’ve described are indifferent to the countries, cultures and people who use them.  This is the essence of the power of The Playmaker System; it describes what people do in their efforts to influence, regardless that they may be doing so for competitive or mutual benefit and irrespective of their backgrounds and conditions.

How can I get my organization to use Playmaker?  How can we use this to get onto the same page?

The system can be approached in small steps or large.  You can assign the landmark book, The Elements of Influence, to read among your team members and discuss over lunch.  You can read our Playmaker’s Blog at www.playmakersystems.com or on our Facebook page.  Using the new Playcaller app, you can do simple deconstructions of plays in your marketplace.  And, of course, you can call us.  Whether it’s a Play Action Team Survey or a full blown Playmaker Simulation, we have a variety of services and tools to help you get going.

How do I explain this to my boss?

Walk them through the free iOS Playcaller app.  Have in mind a play that they’ve run recently — or that’s been run on them — and show them that in three taps they can know the name of the play and, in one more, what to do about it.  They’ll be hooked.  Leave them a copy of the Taxonomy of Influence Plays and start using the lexicon, if even casually.  If they’re a reader, give them a copy of The Elements of Influence.

How can Playmaker be used in my organization?

In at least three ways:

1.  As a Lingua Franca.  We find that the clients who “speak Playmaker” communicate across divisions and up-and-down management hierarchies more effectively.  What used to take a few paragraphs to describe in an email now takes a few words.  “They’re running a Label.  How should we counter?”

2.  As a Best Practice.  The Playmaker Influence System dramatically accelerates understanding and mastery of the games and gamesmanship of marketplaces.  Once you adopt it, you won’t ever see things they same way again.  Our clients and friends tell us that “thinking in Playmaker” is addictive.

3.  As a Toolset.  As we grow, so do our capabilities to offer new decision-support systems and applications. Visit our Software & Services page here for details.

Can my regional staff be trusted with Playmaker?  Will the mere act of deploying the system be a tacit order to pick fights?

Not if it is deployed properly.  The discipline of influence strategy is neutral on the values and purposes that users apply to it.  If you position the system as sword, it shall be swung.  If you position the system as a shield, it shall be held up.  If you position it as a strategy system, it will be approached with cunning and care.  In any case, this is a system that can be used to educate your people and to help them control markets, not simply defend them.

What’s an ontology?

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary offers these definitions:

  1. A branch of metaphysics concerned with the nature and relations of being.
  2. A particular theory about the nature of being or the kinds of things that have existence.

We like to think of an ontology as a taxonomy with detail or depth.  With meat on the bones, if you will.  It’s an idea that’s helped scientists and philosophers better understand how things are.  The Playmaker ontology does just that.  As the first influence ontology, it explains in full detail — from names, to acronyms, illustrations, risk vs. reward and transparency ratings, definitions, upsides, downsides, decoding, countering and collaborating — the scope and scale of the discipline of influence strategy and the component parts that comprise it.

What’s a taxonomy?

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary offers these definitions:

  1. The study of the general principles of scientific classification : systematics
  2. classification; especially : orderly classification of plants and animals according to their presumed natural relationships

The Taxonomy of Influence Plays, the centerpiece of the Playmaker System, is a classic taxonomy.  It’s our way — and yours — to understand how influence strategies are ordered and co-located.  It’s the first taxonomy ever to put the amorphous practice of influence into a rational and readable system.

What do you mean by lingua franca?

A lingua franca is a language systematically used to make communication possible between people who do not share a mother tongue.  The first knownlingua franca was used throughout the Mediterranean basin during Byzantine and Renaissance times as a language of commerce and diplomacy.  It was comprised mostly of Italian with a broad vocabulary drawn from Turkish, French, Greek, Arabic, Portuguese and Spanish.

From our perspective, the influence industries are in need of a lingua franca of its own.  As professionals, we’ve been cursed by myriad and subjective dialects, appellations and words to describe what we do.  The result is low command-and-control, subjective and impressionistic analysis, and a lack of comparable respect from our colleagues in the industries of finance and accounting, management, law, engineering, and the physical sciences, all of whom have standard terminologies, systems and ontologies that describe their professional units of practice.  We deserve better.

What’s The Playmaker System?

The Playmaker Influence System is a patented three-part decision system for analysts, strategists and students of fcommunication, social media, marketing, sales, politics and information warfighting.  Acclaimed by business and academic leaders, it gives influencers the ability to pinpoint and manage the strategies of their marketplace with unprecedented clarity and efficiency.  There’s nothing like it in the world.  Chemists have the periodic table of elements.  Linguists have transformational grammar.  Accountants have GAAPs.  Musicians have the melodic scale.  Influencers have nothing, until now.

Why do I need something like that?

Because without a system and standard, you’re practicing your craft as a form of alchemy.  With one, you’re practicing with precision. The Taxonomy of Influence Plays allows professionals to know more exactly and more quickly the plays of their marketplace, how they work, and how they can be used to sustain competitive advantage–whether or not the advantage they seek is mutual, collaborative or exclusive.  For more, read our Vision page.

What’s Standard Guidance?

Standard Guidance is a rich resource of +1,000 expert tips and best practices for running plays and winning.  It’s the global characteristics and probable outcomes of each play and surrogate.  You can learn more here.


See our Services & Apps pages for detailed offerings and descriptions.