Before an original piece of thinking or research finds its way between hard covers, it is likely to turn up in magazines. Most executives make a point of subscribing to a range of business and trade publications. But for keeping the mind fresh, fertile, and open to new perspectives -- the prerequisites of innovation -- there is nothing quite like an afternoon each month spent browsing through the magazine section of the local library.

Perhaps no magazine is more catholic in its interest, or more serious about challenging complacency, than Lewis Lapham's Harper's. The magazine's monthly "Index" juxtaposes arcane statistics that confound expectations or question the intelligence of the human species ("Percentage of Americans who say that space shots affect the weather: 41"). In a section called "Readings," snippets of monologues, dialogues, letters, speeches, advertising copy, interviews, lectures, and shopping lists never fail to amuse and intrigue.

The future of just about every business these days depends in some part on advances in science and technology, and of all the magazines that cover these subjects, the best I've found is New Scientist. It's here that you might read authoritative reports on new plastics that conduct electricity, or new techniques in the disposal of radioactive wastes. Another London weekly, The Economist, is much overrated. But for Americans, it is refreshing -- and important -- to get a decidedly non-American view of the international economy.

No doubt you already know what you think politically. If so, you're a danger to yourself and to the republic. Conservatives will find The New Republic, especially Michael Kinsley's "TRB" column, a readable, informed, and entertaining check on their natural complacency. Liberals, on the other hand, might learn to curb their self-righteous indignation by an occasional visit with the neoconservative The Public Interest, which has published the most levelheaded and myth-piercing articles to be found anywhere on subjects ranging from welfare reform to government inefficiency.

You don't necessarily have to read People magazine, or even like it. But if you are going to operate successfully in the American marketplace, you have to look at it on a regular basis. No other publication gives a better insight into the values and preoccupations of so many of your employees, your suppliers, and your customers -- to say nothing of your teenage children. And besides, how else would you know that Debra Winger and her younger man, Timothy Hutton, are already expecting their first?