The concept of Evolutionary Stable Strategies (ESS) stems from observations in the animal kingdom of behavioural patterns in inter and intra species relationships that prove to be 'stable' in the long term. Once adopted by a given species, in a given environment, an ESS, by definition, cannot be bettered by an alternate strategy.
A classic example of behaviour in the animal kingdom is that of the hawk and the dove. These names have been chosen to demonstrate two alternate behavioural strategies; the aggressive being the hawk, fighting relentlessly to near death, and the defensive being the dove, running away at the first sign of trouble.
The hawk and dove refer to 'strategies', not actual hawks and doves. So an example would be a social species like flamingos. In a flock when conflicts arise over personal space or a really hot flamingo, then the flamingos adopt a strategy in that conflict. Some may chose to simply run away (the dove) or stand and fight (hawk).
Each behavioural tendency has its costs and benefits; the dove never wins, but it also never gets hurt. The hawk approach wins every once in a while, but they also get hurt and sometimes die in the process. When doves meet, no one gets hurt, but they may waste a lot of time. When hawks meet, one will win, but both tend to get hurt in the process. So it can be seen that if we had a population where all but one adopted a dove strategy, the one hawk will win everything contested and thus rule. On the other hand, if we hand a population where all but one adopted a hawk strategy, the one dove would be insignificant and the result would end up a blood bath of contests amongst the hawks. Without doing the maths, it can be demonstrated that a mixture of the aggressive hawk and defensive dove approach works well in the long run.
The trick is to select the appropriate strategy based on the prevailing conditions and the perceived values of the contestants. So when a number of these contests take place, the flamingo will, depending on other conditions such as strength, desire and a quick cost-benefit analysis, adopt a strategy that will bring it the highest benefit, based on their perceived values.
These behavioural patterns have their equivalents in the corporate management community. When talking of management, it will be insulting to the animal kingdom to refer to the strategies as hawk and dove, so lets call these 'head kickers' (HK) and 'butt kissers' (BK).
The motivation in conflicts in the world of corporate management are closely aligned to those already discussed in the animal kingdom, but in this context can be summarised in one word: money. Because every one knows that once you have money, you can buy any and all resources that fit your fancy, hot flamingos included. The trade-offs also have close correlations. Hurt or loss in this context refers to financial pain such as demotion, missing out on stock options or dismissal. Winning would mean the reverse.
In this kingdom, the BK approach tends to be productive up to a point. Both HK and BK tend to reward BK for the fact that they did not initiate conflict that could have led to potential injury to the former. As in the animal kingdom, if you a adopt a BK in a conflict you will always lose to a HK, but will only waste time with another BK. The HK however will never yield their position (forego their own resources) to a BK. So they only can get displaced by another HK. The concept of positions is an important one. It reflects the resources, by virtue of authority, one has before a conflict and it directly reflects the position held in the corporation.
This immediately suggests a winning strategy; BK towards your superiors right up to a limiting level and then turn to HK to further advance. Here we have the classic 'back stabbing' approach (BS), (not to be confused with bulls***ter). Again avoiding any maths, it can be easily seen as generally the best approach by virtue of the fact that it's also the most conservative. Although seemingly flawless in nature, it does have many dangers. The main one being that once the HK strategy is enacted at a high level, losing typically means a great loss, namely dismissal.
Some other interesting traits may be observed. The person at the lower level is always at a disadvantage by virtue of being at a lower level. So in any contest it does not make sense to compete with someone in a higher position. This in turn requires for the truly upwardly mobile to be patient and spend a long time in the BK position before getting a stab at the top jobs. Also, once at the very top, you always need to adopt a HK strategy as 'they're all out to get you'.
This corporate hierarchy has previously been compared to a troop of monkeys sitting in a tree. The monkeys at the top of the tree look down and only see smiling faces. The monkeys on the lower branches look up and see a bunch of a**eholes.