Decision Making in Competitive Environments: Co-evolutionary Gaming

Decision Making in Competitive Environments: Co-evolutionary Gaming


Coevolution originated from the term evolutionary biology, which describes the phenomenon of two species (the predator and prey) over time (Jonson, 1994). Animal predators, (lions, chameleons, and others) use camouflage to evade the attention of the prey; they blend into their background by use of cryptic coloration. On the other hand, the prey evolves and develops its own strategies. This phenomenon reflects the decision processes in a competitive business environment. It is the same scenario as an arms race.

The adaptation of this phenomenon to operations research is essential because it describes the situation in the real world (Cares & Miskel, 2007). Perhaps adequate knowledge of the dynamics of the phenomenon of predator and prey may help us develop effective command and control. In order to understand business situations, scientists analyzed the gaming behavior of players and developed algorithmic model for decision making i.e. the evolutionary games.


Decision making comprises considerations of three elements: “alternatives, outcome, and states of the world” (Johnson, 1994). In choosing between alternatives, decision makers identify and select a course of action that they think is the best based on their assessment of the values they place on decision the outcomes and their beliefs about the world. The premise of natural selection poses a dilemma in leadership as it seeks to create cooperation, especially when it involves dealing with competing deflectors.

In competitive decisions, the process is complex because of the existence of intelligent opposition, whose actions affect the outcome for decision makers (Cares & Miskel, 2007). Moreover, competitors intentionally design actions to heighten uncertainty about the states of the world. These actions create uncertainty and make the selection of appropriate course of action difficult, in competitive environments. This phenomenon is crucial because inappropriate decision making leads to a framework that allocates resources wrongly.


The purpose of the application of this decision making approach is to optimize decision making based on knowledge of the competition landscape (Szolnoki, & Perc, 2009). However, the landscape can be dynamic, and, in some cases, coupled with the competitor’s landscape. An adversary, through speculation, can mimic the landscape and alter it to suit its intention. Therefore, there is a need to understand your perceived landscape, as well as the adversary’s, as a function of what we do, what others do, what we think others might do, and  what others think we might do.

By coevolving, competitors can turn each other’s peak into a valley (Cares & Miskel, 2007). In a bid to win in a coevolving world, competing forces strive to fake opponents into moves creating an opportunity to exploit (Szolnoki, & Perc, 2009). Alternatively, they can act on more than one level complicating the possibility for decoding their status. In addition, a competing entity may act more appropriately or faster than its opponent exploiting the predictability of its decision making.

Effect on Communication Processes

The Johari Window is a model that describes communication, in terms of group self- disclosure (Chapman, 2003). The model comprises quadrants describing: 1) arena (things I know and others know), 2) blind spot (things I do not know, but others know), 3) façade (things I know, but others know) and, 4) unknown (things I and others do not know). The Johari reflects the importance of self-disclosure and feedback in human, social interactions. Feedback represents a reaction to us by others, in terms of their perception and feelings. It indicates the impact of your behavior on their activities. The information that we disclose to others expresses how their activities affect us.

This is the essence of communication: to facilitate harmony in human relations through communication of perceptions and feelings. The situation is different, in the case of coevolutionary gaming. This process has the goal of concealing information and disclosing the minimum possible to the opponents and other players in the environment. The application of coevolutionary theory, in human relations and business situations, alters communication processes. It poses a danger in that it promotes the potential for conflicts and negative relations. It reverts social relations into the rule of the jungle; survival at the expense of others. In such situations, building positive relationships does not apply; the aim is to hurt the other player.


In order to win in an environment characterized by co-evolution and stiff competition, we must observe, orient, decide, and act more quickly, and with more irregularity, in order to gain or keep initiative, as well as shape and shift main effort (Cares & Miskel, 2007). This allows us to take advantage, unexpectedly, of weaknesses and vulnerabilities exposed by the efforts that divert adversary attention. However, we must weigh the benefits of competitive advantage with the need to share information for effective social interactions (Chapman, 2003).

Communication of self-information guards against unintended, harmful actions by other entities. Concealing information takes away from the capacity for decision making. It discourages constructive consultations between individuals or organizations operating within the same sector. Constructive consultations are essential in integrating efforts, in order to conquer common environmental problems without perceiving the other player as competitor. Through positive innovations, organizations can create solutions to problems while ensuring positive coexistence between various groups.


In competitive environments, the process of adaptation is that of coevolution. It is not merely an organization against its environment, but rather an organization against other organizations competing for resources in an environment, which is a challenge in itself (Szolnoki, & Perc, 2009). Therefore, competing players apply random variation of its actions and selection, in order to design survival strategies that will help them gain an upper hand over their opponents. Innovations from one side create responses of innovations on the other side. Individuals and organizations evolve to overcome problems posed by their opponents, who, in turn, evolve to survive new challenges.

Coevolution is a theory that is necessary in competitive environments. It guards against elimination by opponents. However, it affects the natural communication processes. It eliminates the need to share information with others about self that facilitates positive, human interactions.  Competitors value confidentiality because of the cruel nature of their competitors. Any lose information causes negative repercussions for an individual or organization. The process is about altering the environment, in order to mislead the competitors; hence creating opportunities for your business.


Cares, J. & Miskel, J. (2007). Take Your Third Move First. Harvard Business Review, Vol. 85 Issue 3, 20-21
Chapman, J. (2003). “The Johari Window”.
Johnson, E. (1994). “Competitive Decision Making: Two and a Half Frames”. Marketing Letters, 5(3): 289-302.
Szolnoki, A. & Perc, M. (2009). “Coevolutionary games- A mini review”. Biosystems, 99(1): 109-125.

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