At its heart, strategy is a series of choices across converging to be like others and diverging to be different from them. The areas in which you choose to converge require less effort and investment because you can leverage what others have already done in order to be good enough. This frees up resources to invest in areas that require more effort and investment to build meaningful advantages.
Getting out of an ocean beach rip current provides a case in point. The best approach is to ride the rip out until its strength fades and then swim across the rip, parallel to the beach before heading back to shore. People that fight the rip and try to swim straight back to the beach run the risk of getting so tired they can't make it. So, converge with the flow until it's time to diverge.
This is exactly what Andre Angel is doing with TangoTab. He's riding the currents of Americans' eating habits and then swimming across the current to capitalize on them. At the most recent HATCH Experience, Andre explained to me that he does this to create a social consumerism win win win. Consumers get their needs met. Businesses increase profitability. A social cause is addressed.
Americans eat 1 billion meals in restaurants every week investing inordinate amounts of time and money.
Yet all restaurants have empty seats sometimes. Indeed, 60% of restaurants fail in their first three years largely because of these empty seats. Andre's business, TangoTab, deploys a mobile app to connect restaurant goers with those open seats, giving restaurants new patrons, patrons a discount and TangoTab a referral fee.
Andre is not happy about the hunger problem and the 50 million Americans including 17 million children on food stamps. One in four children in America go to bed hungry every night.
TangoTab took a page out of Tom's Shoes and addresses this issue by donating a meal to someone in need for every person that makes a reservation in a restaurant using the TangoTab app. Their line is "When you eat, they eat."
In Andre's mind this works because "Doing good is very contagious. 92% of mothers and 88% of millenials will buy or recommend a product if it's attached to a cause in line with the human desire for connection."
Unlike non-profits that fight against the rip currents of their dependency on the generosity of donors, armies of volunteers and the good graces of the media, TangoTab and other socially conscious for-profit businesses can operate with dependable workforces, supply chains, infrastructures, plans and programs.
They are businesses, but business in which the cause is core to their purpose. The convergence parts of their strategies are to go after existing consumer needs, link with businesses' current realities and leverage existing technologies. The divergence part of their strategies is to put these things together in new ways that meet everyone's needs in a socially conscious way.
The converge and diverge parts of your strategy
Be clear on the difference. The vast majority of your choices should be convergence. Any time you can go with the rip currents and existing consumer habits, trends, infrastructures or eco-systems, the easier things will be. Don't reinvent things that work fine and where you can be good enough or strong. More convergence is better.
Up to a point.
There is no value in sameness. If you converge on everything, you become just like everyone else and must compete on price (a losing proposition). The art to strategy is figuring out which very few things on which to diverge to be world class or best in class. Choose where to play/excel and how to excel on those dimensions so your strategies go beyond theoretically elegant and practically useless to value-creating.
Net, converge on most things to marshal your resources for when it's time to swim across the current, diverge from the crowd and win.