PCT Introduction

The aim of this course is to study in depth these and other important questions by viewing and understanding the informational and related environments as a complex, interactive, interrelated, enmeshed system. Students will then be able to apply key theories and tools to help define the boundaries of the information system, identify key processes and mechanisms of that system, and begin to understand the numerous potential non-linear effects of strategic influencing. The overall aim is to equip students with a sound knowledge of the theoretical, empirical, and methodological aspects of complex adaptive systems as it pertains to social structures and strategic influence.

This course is divided into four sections. Section I introduces the major themes of the course including securitization, social structures, social insecurity, complex adaptive systems theory, and strategic influence. The literature will be organized to address the following questions:

  • What is securitization?
  • What role does strategic influence play in securitization?
  • What is a social structure?
  • How do emotions affect social structures?

Section II builds on what CISA 6948: Strategy: Brand X introduces regarding complexity and chaos theories and makes these theories more explicit and formally systematized, and operationalizes them for application to strategic influence. It is therefore recommended, but not required, that students enrolling for this course will have taken CISA 6948 in the fall. The literature will be organized to address the following questions:

  • What is a complex system?
  • What is a complex social system?
  • How do we know the boundaries of a system?
  • How do these boundaries enhance/challenge political systems/states?

Section III builds on the understanding of the structure of the informational environment by analyzing the mechanisms that systems use to process and produce information and meaning. For many theorists the very definition of complexity is found in the amount of information that is processed by the system. Therefore, each component of a system and each intervention in any part of the system have ramification for systems of information and meaning. The literature will be organized to address the following questions:

  • How do complex social systems produce and process information/meaning?
  • What are the key mechanisms in information/meaning production and processing?
  • Who/what controls meaning production and processing?
  • How is meaning challenged, changed, maintained?

Section IV builds on the structural and meaning system components of an informational environment and focuses on identifying constraints, opportunities, and pressures for the purpose of drafting strategic communication and influence strategies. Students will be able to identify systems within systems, cleavages between systems, and how to intervene to fortify or break these systems. The practicum will take the form of an in-class simulation. The precise structure of the simulation will be designed with student participation. The literature will be organized to address the following questions:

  • How do we identify vulnerabilities and robustness in the meaning systems?
  • How do we fortify/break meaning systems?
  • How do we move/change meaning systems?
  • What is the difference between strategic communication and branding?
  • What is the difference between communication and influence?
  • Given interconnectivity, how does targeting work?

Students who complete “Strategic Influence in a Complex, Adaptive World” should demonstrate the ability to:

  • Understand the theory and application of Complex Adaptive Systems Theory
  • Understand how this theoretical approach helps define and operationalize the informational environment
  • Analyze and identify the key components of enmeshed systems of meaning
  • Assess vulnerabilities of information systems
  • Be able to craft effective strategic influence campaigns

Course Requirements

The required readings listed for each topic should be read before the seminar meets. The faculty has selected the readings for their relevance, quality of ideas, readability, and timeliness. The readings are fodder for class discussion, which will center on the understanding and application of the concepts covered. Supplemental readings are offered for background reference and for those who might wish to pursue a particular topic in greater depth, but they are neither required nor reprinted. They are particularly useful as additional sources for papers and in-class presentations.

The specific graded elements of the course are:

  1. Class Participation—20%: Students are expected to attend each class. Faculty may assign additional work for unexcused absences. Students are also expected to have read the assigned readings and to be prepared for class discussion. Students are encouraged to use the “Issues for Consideration” in each section as a guideline for the topics that will be discussed in class. Students are required to leave comments on the topic discussion board for that week and review all comments before coming to class. Class participation constitutes 20% of the final grade.
  2. In-class simulation—30%:  The precise nature of the simulation will be designed using student input. However, the principles and practices of the simulation must be rooted deeply in the theories and methods of the course material. Further, it must produce information and concepts useful for designing an influence strategy.
  3. Development of a communication and influence strategy – 50%: Students will be tasked to develop a strategy document based on the readings and simulation. Papers will be 15-20 pages in length (these are hard minimums and maximums) and are based on the rubric distributed separately. Papers are due on Monday the 15th of April absolutely no later than 4:00pm. Papers received after this will be penalized.

Letter Grade

Grade Points







Firm command of knowledge domain; High level of analytical development






Command of knowledge beyond minimum; Advanced analytical development









Command of only basic concepts of knowledge;Demonstrated basic analytical ability






The following serve as guidelines in the assessment of students in the course.


There are six cornerstones of a superior paper:

  1. It establishes the relevant question clearly;
  1. It answers the question in a highly analytical manner;
  1. It proposes a well-defined thesis, stated early on;
  1. It presents evidence to support that thesis;
  1. It addresses, explicitly or implicitly, opposing arguments or weaknesses in the thesis and supporting evidence (this constitutes a counterargument); and,
  1. It accomplishes the above in a clear and well-organized fashion.

Standards for assessing student papers are as follows:

A (93–100):  Work of superior quality that contains original thought.

A- (90–92):  Work of high quality that demonstrates original thought.

B+ (87–89):  A sound effort which meets all six cornerstones above.

B (83–86):  A solid essay which is, on the whole, a successful consideration of the topic.

B- (80–82):  An essay that addresses the question and has a clearly-stated thesis, but which fails fully to support the thesis and either does not address counterarguments thoroughly, has serious structural flaws, or does not fully develop conclusions.

C+ (77–79):  Sufficiently analytical to distinguish it from a C, but lacks sufficient support, structure, analysis, or clarity.

C (73–76):  Expresses a reasonable argument but makes inadequate use of evidence, has little coherent structure, is critically unclear, or lacks the quality of insight deemed sufficient adequately to explore the issue at hand.

C- (70–72):  Attempts to address the question but does not come to a responsible, defensible conclusion worthy of serious attention or is below average in one or more of the six cornerstones listed above to require significant remedial effort.

F (69 and below): The submission does not merit graduate credit. Students may be asked to resubmit the essay.

Class Contribution:

The following standards are employed to assess student grades for seminar contribution:

A (93–100): Strikes the good balance between “listening” and “contributing.”  Demonstrates superior preparation for each session as reflected in the quality of contributions to group discussion. Frequently demonstrates insightful and original thought. Respects the opinions of others but challenges when appropriate.

A- (90–92):  Above the average expected of a graduate student. Well prepared for classroom discussion at each seminar session. Respects the views of colleagues and, by quality of contributions, commands their respect in return.

B+ (87–89):  A solid contributor to seminar sessions. Joins in most discussions. Contributions to group understanding of the topic and discussions reflect understanding of the material. Respectful of the views of others.

B (83–86):  Contributions to discussions reflect average preparation for class. Supports group efforts. Occasionally interrupts others.

B- (80–82):  Contributes. Often speaks out without having thought the issue through. Sometimes fails to show regard for a colleague’s opinions or proper consideration or courtesy toward others in the seminar group.

C+ (77–79):  Generally prepared. Sometimes contributes voluntarily; more frequently needs to be encouraged to enter into discussions. Routinely allows others to take the lead in group discussions.

C (73–76):  Preparation is adequate, but frequently fails to respect the views of others, is sometimes belligerent in discourse with colleagues and/or instructor. Rarely steps forward to assume a fair share in group discussions. Usually content to let others form the class discussions and develop required seminar positions.

C- (70–72):  Minimal contribution to group discussions suggesting lack of preparation for classroom sessions, as well as little or no interest in contributing to group endeavors. Sometimes displays a negative attitude.

F (69 and below): Class preparation and contributions do not merit graduate credit. Student will be referred to the faculty, faculty advisor or Dean of Students for counseling.

Course Readings

Barry Buzan and Lene Hansen, The Evolution of International Security Studies, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009).

John H. Holland, Hidden Order: how adaptation builds complexity, (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1995).

John H. Holland, Signals and Boundaries: Building Blocks for Complex Adaptive Systems, (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2012).

Neil Johnson, Simply Complexity a clear guide to complexity theory, (London: Oneworld Publications, 2007).

Bob Williams and Richard Hummelbrunner, Systems Concepts in Action: A Practitioner’s Toolkit, (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2011).