Mashups aren’t just for Mondays


If my self-imposed job title weren’t already so long, I’d add the words “Daily Practice Junkie.” Since last month’s article on consistency and surprise, I passed the one-year mark for workouts. Yep. I’ve exercised for at least 30 minutes a day, every damn day, for more than a year. I’ll pause while you gasp and applaud (okay, slow clap).

But fitness is just one of my daily disciplines. Another is to create and publish a digital illustration every day. This habit is easier to keep when I have a theme—a hint of direction that nudges me past decision-making (what to draw?) and into the work.

A few weeks ago, I felt oh-so-clever when I added Mashup Mondays to my weekly rotation of drawing prompts.

On Monday evenings, I grab two ideas from the swirl of clutter in my brain—raccoon + scribbling, Sharpies + mandalas, virtual meetings + nail polish—and force them together in an illustration. It’s kind of ridiculous, but incredibly useful.

As it turns out, I’m not first to mash things up on Mondays. Back in 2015, Jimmy Kimmel made Mash Up Mondays a segment on his late-night show. He brings together two musical guests, not because their styles are compatible, but because their names form an interesting combo.

“I’m a sucker for a good pun—or a bad pun—and I thought that would be fun to start mashing these bands up based on their names,” said Kimmel. That’s how he landed musical acts like Fall Out Boyz II Men, Jewel and The Gang, and Joss Stone Temple Pilots.

Fun, right?

Yes! But mashups are good for more than fun.

Mashups are like jumper cables for your imagination.

By forming an unlikely pairing, you give your brain a healthy jolt of innovation power juice. The more illogical the combo, the more your mind must suspend logic and move in new, playful directions. And those directions? They can take you straight to the land of creative breakthroughs.

As a person who wants to make a positive, distinctive, innovative difference at work, how can you use mashups? Here are a few ideas.

Mash words.

When my husband and I were dating, we made a blended name for ourselves. Jim + Bethany = [wait for it]. Why should these clever handles be reserved for the rich and famous? Move over Branjelina, Bennifer, and Kimye. Make room for Jimany.

Silly, I know. But in case you’ve forgotten (scroll up three paragraphs), this silliness can produce seriously innovative results.

This is how we got sporks, brunch, and romcoms. It’s the formula behind Mobituaries, a delightful book and podcast by Mo Rocca, who pours his humor and quirky perspective into unique tributes to people (and sometimes objects) who have passed.

Blending words is also how Jill and I coined a new term to use in Story Mode last week. Many clients ask us to prepare people to be “champions” who can grow and sustain their teams’ creative energy even after a Story Mode workshop or engagement is done. I know “champion” can mean “advocate” or “supporter,” but it also means “winner.” We don’t want to suggest that these people are first-place finishers. They’re not ahead of the game. They’re encouraging people to stay in the game. They’re motivators.

Story Mode + Motivators = Story Mode-ivators. Done.

In case you need one more reason to try this technique, know that there’s a fancy French word for blending words: portmanteau. If that doesn’t legitimize this mashup, what does?

Scan the vocabulary of your business and find words with mashup potential. What terms can you invent?

Mash products or brands.

Thank goodness some brilliant candy-maker knew that two great tastes would taste great together. I freaking love Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups. It’s a divine collision of two of my favorite things.

The food industry is good at this. How else would something like Mayomust make it to market? Or Snickers-flavored coffee creamer. Or Jolly Rancher Cereal. Or Sriracha beer. (They’re not all winners.)

But companies in any industry can play the mashup game. Last year, Ford released an F-150 truck that doubles as a generator. Remember that catastrophic winter storm that hit Texas a few weeks ago? One man used his pickup “to power his home and help neighbors during the blackout.”

Co-branding, cross-brand collaboration, product repositioning—they’re all mashups, of a sort. Some of these combos unite next-door neighbors; mustard and mayo sit on the same shelf in the fridge. Others reach a little farther; beer and Sriracha co-exist in the same kitchen. What happens if you reach far afield? (Like, say, Warby Parker + Arby’s?)

Give yourself permission to mash your current offering with something else. How far can you move beyond the obvious?

Mash methods.

Near the end of many Story Mode workshops, we pull a nasty but useful trick on our clients. Just as they reach a level of comfort and satisfaction with a message they’ve spent hours planning and refining, we ask them to retell that story in a totally different, insanely limiting form.

Stoked about your script? Reduce it to a 140-character Tweet with hashtags.

Pleased with your PowerPoint? Set that deck aside and say the same thing in a limerick.

Tickled with your talking points? Reimagine them as a comic strip.

This switcheroo is terribly cruel and terribly instructive.

This kind of mashup—melding a traditional business message with an unexpected storytelling method—almost always inspires an “aha!” Forced to reduce your story, you have to find focus; the most essential point gets full attention. Forced into an outlandish format, you find new words and images to convey your meaning.

Take five minutes to mash your message into an unconventional and wildly restrictive format. What brilliance will this bring to the surface?

How will you work mashups into your creative process? Don’t wait for Monday. Try it today. Make it fast, fun, and fruitful—a speed date with your brain to break through the otherwise predictable rhythm of your routine.

A little bonus material, after the fact …

A few days after publishing this article, I made a quick video about yet another mashup technique you can use to translate your organization’s insider-speak into messages your customers will actually understand. There are toys. Enjoy!

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