Moving “The Greatest Show On Earth”: W.C. Coup As An Innovation Champion


Circus; Effectuation; Innovation champion; Logistics; Scaling; William C. Coup


Purpose: This research aims to provide a historical example of how an innovation champion radically changed the operations of the circus industry by incorporating both the rational and actuation models in his scaling-up innovations. The innovations to the logistics and operations of the P. T. Barnum Circus, “The Greatest Show on Earth”, created by William C. Coup in response to the massive technological development of integrated railroad systems offer new insights into how management effectuation operates through the capabilities and experiences of an innovation champion. Design/methodology/approach: The authors use a theoretically anchored longitudinal study that captures the mechanisms and processes of innovation by adopting an explorative, inductive research design in the form of a single in-depth case analysis. Findings: Coup’s contributions show how the management innovation process works and adds detail with regard to how a champion of change may succeed in an effectuation process. Coup’s management innovation was in scaling-up others’ innovations. In an effectuation process similar to what entrepreneurs must do when their new ideas find a growing market acceptance, Coup repeatedly scaled-up others’ ideas in ways that changed how his industry operated. Originality/value: Although there is some agreement on how management influences innovation in their organizations, research identifying the characteristics of managers that cause them to be innovation champions is still evolving and this current work adds to this endeavor. This work provides a rich illustration of an innovation champion’s use of effectuation as a process of experimentation to discover pragmatic and effective solutions to problems arising from the use of new technology or scaling business models to levels never before imagined.

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Journal of Management History





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85041425660 (Scopus)

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