Jumping the Shark


A Bridge Too Far” was a WWII movie called about an allied plan to take a series of bridges held by the Nazi’s.  The ambitious plan was to take a series of bridges by sending in paratroopers followed by a sweeping assault by ground forces up a narrow road.  On paper it looked good. In practice it failed miserably.

The surge turned into a disaster because men and supplies were bogged down on the narrow road. Relief was slow for some of the paratroopers.  But it never came for the last group at the farthest bridge down the road.  They were captured and many died for lack of support.

In marketing you can forge ahead with your ambitious plan and think the world will follow along.  But often you are so far ahead of your tribe or organization that they can’t follow you.  John Maxwell said that if you are too far out in front of your followers, they will mistake you for the enemy and shoot you.  Or else you will become a martyr. Either way, you die with your ideas.

The principle applies to organizations or ideas that fall in love with themselves.  They think they can put anything out and receive an instant following.  For instance, the phrase “Jumping the Shark” originated in Hollywood with a television episode.  Happy Days was a very popular 1970s television show. It birthed the career of Henry Winkler as Arthur Fonzerelli, aka: Fonzi. 

Toward the last few seasons, the writers were running out of ideas for the show based in Milwaukee, so they took the cast to various places for series of episodes.  One of them was in Southern California.  Fonzi wound up jumping a penned shark offshore on water skis. It was a ridiculous idea and even the cast agreed that the show was dying when they filmed it.

A professional organization I am a member of recently rolled out a new brand and identity.  The leadership had the best intentions, but the membership has reacted (so far) violently against the new program.  Either the leaders thought everyone was on the same page as they were, OR they were walking off in a new direction without a loyal following.  I heard in a conference years ago that if you think you are leading and you have no followers, you are merely taking a walk.

How is your organization “jumping the shark?”  Lead gradually but boldly, but watch out for the penned up shark. Is there any way you can avoid jumping it?

Do you feel like your product or service is bullet proof?  How well are you staying close to your customers or tribe?   Look around and behind you.  Are you merely taking a walk?  

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