Shark Week, The Fonz, and the Dangers of Innovation

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The following is from guest writer, Ed Russo. 

Since 1988 we have been captivated by Discovery Channel’s homage to sharks known to the world as Shark Week.  We are midway through this year’s programming and it is better than ever. While watching these magnificent creatures lurk in the shadows and ambush their prey it made me think of some of the predators we encounter in the workplace. To combat these individuals, leaders often seek creative and innovative techniques. Unfortunately, some leaders get so committed to being modern and cutting edge that they risk appearing misguided, unfocused, and possibly desperate. Have you jumped the shark in your attempts to be innovative in the workplace?

Arthur “The Fonz” Fonzarelli is an iconic character played by Henry Winkler on the 70’s sitcom Happy Days. He is at the heart of the infamous entertainment term “jumping the shark” where Fonzie jumped a shark while water skiing in his signature leather jacket. According to Wikipedia,

Jumping the shark is an idiom created by Jon Hein that was used to describe the moment in the evolution of a television show when it begins a decline in quality, signaled by a particular scene, episode, or aspect of a show in which the writers use some type of “gimmick” in an attempt to keep viewers’ interest. The phrase is based on a scene from a fifth-season episode of the sitcom Happy Days when the character Fonzie jumps over a shark while on water-skis…The usage of “jump the shark” has subsequently broadened beyond television, indicating the moment when a brand, design, or creative effort’s evolution declines.

Too many leaders rely on similar gimmicks to get back on track. These tactics tend to produce the opposite of the desired results and undermine leadership efforts. I’ve spoken with a C-Level executive who’s boss directed the upper management team to read Leadership in the New Science, a book that describes how complex scientific theories can improve organizations. Being interested in math and science, this leader thought this was going to be a unique and innovative approach to management. Turns out quantum physics is not easily digested and even harder to apply.

As a leader, you are navigating the treacherous waters of the workplace. Experiment with and be open to new management philosophies, but don’t forget the classics. Consider dusting off some of the tried and true tools like:

  • Good to Great– Enhancing management strategies and practices
  • Raving Fans – Improving customer service
  • Purple Cow – Marketing and selling your product and your vision

and since it is Shark Week,

  • Fish! – Enriching employee morale and efficiency


Ed Russo is the Program Manager for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Mr. Russo works with educators, law enforcement, community leaders, and government officials to implement child safety resources into schools and communities across the country. Through presentations and trainings, Mr. Russo provides participants with information about how safety resources can help prevent the victimization of children. Prior to joining the Center he was a Human Resources Manager in a Florida County Clerk’s Office and has over 18 years of teaching experience. Mr. Russo is a graduate of the University of Rhode Island with a BS degree in Education.

Mr. Russo can be contacted through Twitter and LinkedIn.

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