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Evolutionarily Stable Strategies

While explaining how genes tend to propagate and be naturally selected, Richard Dawkins describes the concept of Evolutionarily Stable Strategies (ESS), in his book, The Selfish Gene.

The idea is that, in a population, if every individual of a species can adopt one of several strategies, where the adoption is each strategy is driven by the presence of a certain gene, then the population will reach a steady state where the strategy that is most stable is adopted by a majority of the individuals in the population and that any deviation is penalised.

This phenomenon is analogous to what I wrote about different types of organizations - engineering-driven, data-driven, design-driven and sales-driven - each of which come with their own cultures. The core of the culture comes down to how conflicts are resolved.

The behaviours needed to succeed in any of these organizations can be thought of as strategies (as defined by Richard Dawkins). This gives us broadly four sets of strategies, each of which resolves conflicts differently.

And conflicts are part and parcel of daily work, no matter what organization we work at.

The successful strategy in a data-driven organization may be to show evidence of user behaviour when two people are arguing about how to solve a problem. But, it may not be a winning strategy in a sales-driven organization.

What strategy is winning is entirely dependent of the culture of the organization. And the winning strategy tends to become the ESS for that organization (at that period in time).

While some people adapt their own strategy to match the ESS of the environment they are in, others find an environment where the ESS matches their own strategy. These are the people that win, of course. There are still more people that simply lose. 

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