Inspiring Lessons for Modern Business from History’s Great Innovators

History is full of great examples for modern business leaders. The innovators who came before provide timeless inspiration for modern life.

Leonardo da Vinci – Diversify Your Skills

Da Vinci is famous as one of the most innovative minds in history. One of the reasons he was able to achieve so much was that he developed a wide range of skills. The renaissance polymath learned about art, architecture, music, mathematics, engineering, biology, and a host of other fields. Each one informed his work in the others, leading to bold and unexpected works.

Johannes Gutenberg – Accessibility Creates Impact

As the inventor of the movable type printing press, Gutenberg made a mass culture of printed works possible. His work had so much impact because it made books accessible to the whole population.

Ada Lovelace – Use Technology Differently

A gifted mathematician and translator, Lovelace created the first computer program, for use with Charles Babbage’s analytical engine. She recognised that the technology had more potential than anyone was giving it credit for, and that it could be used not just for mathematical equations but to consider more complex questions about the world.

George Washington Carver – Consider Who You’ll Help

A botanist and inventor, Carver developed innovative approaches to farming and soil which transformed millions of lives. He was driven to do this by seeing the struggles of poor farmers, and by a desire to help them escape the traps of poverty and starvation.

Coco Chanel – Combine Influences

French designer and businesswoman Chanel is renowned for transforming women’s fashion. Her innovative style was created by combining influences from a range of different sources. From the British elite to Slavic stitching to army bags, she drew on an eclectic mix of inspirations to deliver something entirely new.

Alexander Fleming – Learn from Your Mistakes

Fleming’s discovery of penicillin was born from a mistake. After leaving a set of petri dishes out in the laboratory over a weekend, he found that one had become contaminated with fungus. Rather than throw it out, he observed what effect the fungus had, and so learned from it. The result was a revolutionary medicine that has saved millions of lives.

Katherine Johnson – Don’t Accept Limitations

After graduating from high school at the age of 14, Johnson went to study mathematics at university. There, she took every math class available, and when the teachers ran out of lessons, they added a new course just for her. Going to work at NASA in the 1950s, she pushed back against the limitations placed on her as both a woman and an African-American, becoming a vital figure in the US space program. Her calculations sent spacecraft to the Moon and beyond.

Napoleon Bonaparte – Beware Losing Your Edge

In his youth, Napoleon was a bold and daring strategist. But later in his career, he came to rely on brute force rather than cunning, throwing away thousands of his own men in wasteful battlefield manoeuvres. He remains an example of what not to do as an innovator, allowing his thinking to enter a rut rather than keeping on challenging himself.

Newsletter Subscription

Sign up to get our latest news, updates and special offers available right in your inbox.