[Editors' Note: This is a continuation of the conversation that appeared in the CRM's January 2010 Innovation Issue.]
CRM: In the book, you describe the concept of “interpreters”—can you explain how they’re different than people who are merely creative?
Verganti: Interpreters are really parties or players that help companies give meaning to what’s happening in society and in the competition. These are not simply creative people. These are really the company’s engineers or researchers or artists.
CRM: Do they have to be individuals already high in power?
Verganti: In a way, if an interpreter has power and [credibility], it means that everyone will probably listen to him or her, which means that interpreters who have power are already widely known in the industry. If Steve Jobs says something, everyone will listen. That will hardly create a competitve advantage because it’s widely accessible. The trick for companies is to find out the next interpretors, those who have a new interpretation, before your competitors find them.
I use the metaphor of art: It’s easy for everyone now to say [Pablo] Picasso or [Jackson] Pollock were great painters, but the trick was to find Picasso and Pollock when they were not so famous and so powerful.
CRM: Is it ever just one person or do interpreters come in teams?
Verganti: There are some companies where this capability has been epitomized by one person, like [Apple’s] Steve Jobs. It helps to have one person who’s strong, because to create radical changes you need a person who’s a top executive to take direction to accelerate the company to make change. But the process [requires] many people. If you only rely on the capability of one person to find the right interpreters, you can really miss out. But if you can engage the entire organization, then you have a huge possiblity of finding knowledgeable interpreters because your entire organization has possible connections to [them].
CRM: Can you give an example of a company that’s embodied this concept of radical innovation?
Verganti: When Intuit entered into the market of accounting software applications, every company [was saying], “If you want to do accounting, you have to buy my application.” In creating QuickBooks, Intuit said, “If you don’t want to do accounting, you need to buy our application.” If you really want to understand what [someone is] doing at any given job or task, try to understand what’s important [to him] and how he finds meaning.