5 Classic Books That Have Inspired Innovative Thinking Throughout Time

“Innovation”, “mindfulness”, and “creativity” are terms we hear a lot these days, but where did they come from? These five books helped shape generations of thinkers, and their lessons still apply today.

5 Classic Books That Have Inspired Innovative Thinking Throughout Time
[Image: Flickr user Luis de Bethencourt]

Creativity, innovation, leadership, entrepreneurship–they all begin within us; each is very much a human process.


So naturally, the more we humanize the way we think and work, the more progress we can make in these arenas. If we understand the mental and emotional drivers of innovation and creativity, we can be more innovative and creative.

As a modern-day author, I have the privilege of standing on the shoulders of the giants who came before me. Their works, a diverse arrangement of titles and backgrounds, have inspired me to understand what’s behind things like innovation and leadership, and I believe they will inspire you too:

1. On Creative Disruption

Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy (1942) by Joseph Schumpeter

In his 1942 book Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy, the Austrian-American economist Joseph Schumpeter introduced the notion of the innovation economy, in which the market isn’t driven solely by efficiency, but by great shifts in supremacy. He characterized capitalism by its “violent bursts and catastrophes,” a process he colorfully dubbed “creative destruction.”

Schumpeter saw the shifts occurring in the world in his day, the movement away from rigid standardization and toward the fluidity that we now know. He argued that evolving institutions, entrepreneurship, and technological change are at the heart of economic growth. He also said that the incentive to innovate is what makes capitalism the best economic system.


2. On Human Experience

The Power of Myth (1988) by Joseph Campbell

When we talk about myth, we tend to marginalize the word–to mythologize is to make grand, yes, but also to make unreal and unrelatable.

Campbell, the comparative mythologist and student of Carl Jung, spent a lifetime explaining how the mythic may be the most real thing we have–for myths are simply the ways we organize meaning in our lives.

The Power of Myth comes from a series of interviews he did with former White House press secretary Bill Moyers at the conclusion of his career. By the end, we see the way Campbell structured meaning in his life.

3. On Leadership and Management

The Essential Drucker (2009) by Peter Drucker


Few people embody a craft as well as Drucker embodied management. His book distills six decades of his insights into the philosophy of business–as such, it’s required reading for anyone thinking deeply about the way we work.

Containing 26 core selections, The Essential Drucker covers the basic principles and concerns of management and its problems, challenges, and opportunities, giving managers, executives, and professionals the tools to perform the tasks that the economy and society of tomorrow will demand of them.

4. On Mindfulness

The Miracle of Mindfulness (1996) by Thich Nhat Hanh

When people ask me about mindfulness, this is the first book I recommend.

If you don’t yet know him, Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Zen master and one of the foremost living Buddhist teachers. This slim book, now a classic, took shape from a series of letters he wrote to a friend about the nature of meditation–it serves as the most lucid introduction to the practice.


5. On Life’s Purpose

Sādhanā: The Realisation of Life [1913] by Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore was a Bengali “renaissance man” who reshaped his region’s literature and music. He became the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913.

Compiled and translated by Tagore from his Bengali lectures, the book consists of eight essays, in which Tagore answers some of the most profound questions of life: Why did God create this world? Why would a Perfect Being, instead of remaining eternally concentrated in Himself, go through the trouble of manifesting the Universe? Why does evil exist? Do love and beauty have a purpose?

Tagore masterfully brings the spiritual truths behind these profound questions to light, with his lucid explanations of the Sanskrit verses of the Upanishads (Indian spiritual texts dating back to 800 B.C.) and the eternal teachings of Jesus and Buddha.