The Invention of Innovation – What P.T. Barnum is about to teach you, again

by Clinton Bonner

the Peerless Prodigies of P.T. BarnumStep right up, step right up, come one come all and witness the greatest invention of all time!!! More incredible than the Amazing Talking Machine, more scintillating than a live Mermaid. Yes folks this one invention will change your life.

We are of course talking about none other than the most important invention of all time… innovation. P.T. Barnum was the master of innovation. Before Hitchcock owned suspense and long before Jobs owned anticipation, P.T. Barnum pioneered the very notion of bringing innovation to you. Now, 160 some-odd years later you have a wonderful opportunity to step right up and read all about it. And the story of this latest creation is just as amazing as the original.

It’s March, 2011 and Jillian Lerner is frustrated. Thoroughly accomplished by any standard, this PhD of Art History from Columbia University feels stymied. She has a story to tell and though she lives and breathes in the 21st Century, in this era of the ‘always on’ storytelling opportunity where often 140 characters (or less) can ignite a movement, she is lacking an innovative outlet for her tale. She is surrounded by academia, research papers and shuns the notion that her work must go down the traditional path that innately has a limited audience. She has an idea and begins to act on it.

Barnum wasn’t your classical inventor and he didn’t care about the traditional means of bringing something “to market”. What he cared deeply about, where he excelled like no other human being previous to him, was in creating fanfare around an idea. Creating hype, creating desire, not for an invention he tinkered away at laboriously, but rather someone else’s oddity, someone else’s hard work is where he focused his creative genius. He emerged as a curator who was able to capture all the wild energy and optimism of the day, focus it in remarkable ways, and by doing so, make you – or rather your Great Grandparents – want nothing more in life than to be part of his happening.

With no real familiarity with the greater comic industry, Jillian Lerner makes a decision. She has an incredible story to share, something she calls the Peerless Prodigies of P.T. Barnum, an iconic figure she has marveled at and studied like few others, and she decides her vessel of delivery will be that of the graphic novel. Being a historian of visual media and art, the graphic novel concept appeals to Jillian and she hopes it will open her content to an entirely new and wider audience. With no connections to accomplished artists, she reaches out – via LinkedIn – and hooks a talented artist named Marc Olivent who gravitates towards this unique project. They begin to share ideas, images, concepts on how the project should feel for the user. From scratch, Jillian has to learn to re-envision her myriad Barnum focused tales laid out as a flowing piece of sequential art. She becomes – out of necessity – a kind of set director and Marc begins crafting captivating images like the below.

The Peerless Prodigies of P.T. Barnum artwork from graphic novel

As Jillian went deeper down the rabbit hole that was this new project, she found herself taking lessons from her own protagonist. She realized early on that much like the medieval gatekeepers of academia, the world of traditional publishing was no different and if anything, even more hopelessly guarded. This lack of traditional access to market doesn’t impede her, it only sharpens her approach.

Barnum was famous for creating access where none existed, for drumming up drama that blurred the lines of fiction, reality and even lawfulness. He’d often pen a story for the largest publications of the day, posing as an accredited scientist, verifying that “Barnum’s” newest attraction – like that of a live Mermaid – was indeed real, witnessed and amazing. Days later Barnum himself would flood that same publication with letters from “dissenters”, tagging Barnum as a Charlatan who is only out to hoodwink, a mere fraud who is after your money! The net result of this planted chaos was a groundswell of hype and user-generated emotion that laid out a red carpet of wonderment wherever the man brought his road-show.

As Jillian’s and Marc’s work progresses and it becomes clear their graphic novel will indeed come to completion, she studies the avenues to market that are now at her fingertips. Self-publication options and go-to-market platforms like Amazon’s CreateSpace become her weapon of choice. As the work on the novel is beginning its descent, Jillian realizes she has to now shift focus and pour her energies into creating buzz around her work. She has to create the same wonderment she has been studying all of these years. She has to become Barnum.

In the era of Barnum – and as you may recall from the incredible Christopher Nolan movie canvassing the same era – these masters of storytelling were after that singular moment in time when jaws would drop amongst a canyon of stunned silence. That moment was called the prestige. Today we cumbersomely label that same moment the payoff. The moment it, all of it, was worth it.

Touring Pop-Up Sideshow Saloon - Peerless Prodigies of P.T. BarnumFor Jillian, her moment is about to happen. In two inaugural kick-off events dubbed The Touring Pop-Up Sideshow Saloon her graphic novel will debut within a self-created whimsical setting that would make Barnum himself proud. The tour begins May 6th in San Francisco, then to NYC (Brooklyn) on May the 14th and onward from there. To get more information and to attend the “Sideshow Saloon” visit both their San Francisco Facebook page and New York Facebook page. For more wonderment, enjoy their educational website at and to call a copy your own, visit this Amazon CreateSpace link.

Connect with her on Twitter @JillianLerner.

Today, right now, as a consequence of networks, platforms and access to talent & information, anyone who chooses to create wonderment has the green light to do exactly that. If you ask Jillian she will undoubtedly tell you that it took dedicated action, it took gumption, it took late nights, early mornings and it forced her to get uncomfortable and learn all over again, how to create a magnificent story. But at the end of this tale is the realization that she took a feeling, a gut feeling that her life’s passion shouldn’t settle for traditional paths most others take. She didn’t just decide to act, she acted.

She accomplished this, all of this, in one year. Innovation will always be for the doers.

What do you want to innovate?

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Clinton BonnerClinton Bonner (@clintonbon) is a Marketing Manager at TopCoder – the world’s largest competitive community of software developers, algorithmists and digital creatives. Fun Job!

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