Cowboys and Aliens - the perfect mash. The film premieres the 29 of July in the US and is the latest big expression of mashup in popular culture. And there is a lot to learn from our mashup culture and how it came to be.
The term mashup has its origin in music meaning a song or composition created by blending two or more pre-recorded songs. The term has grown to include digital content, usually referring to combining material from different websites into a single website. And spoofs, of course.
Broadband penetration and the accessibility of digital production tools sped up the concept of the mashup to become a growing part of popular culture and media. Today most media consumption is steadily moving towards streams of combined content cherry picked from different sources. In addition, mainstream culture and media is quickly joining in. A term once used by DJ's has rapidly become the most relevant way to describe the information society. Today it's everywhere - Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Facebook + Myspace, the Hitler Downfall parodies, Cowboys and Aliens.Reinventing the wheel
The idea of mixing existing thoughts and content has always been around in the creative process. In James Joyce's Ulysses the characters and event has parallels in Homer's Odyssey, Andy Warhol's most famous work was based on iconic figures and brands, TMNT is a mix of the comic books Daredevil, New Mutants, Cerebus and Ronin.
In fact, creativity is always a response to something (it's not pulling stuff out of thin air). And this goes for everything from literature and pop art to product development. A poetic example is the Q-Drum
, an innovation that has changed everyday life for thousands of women and children in the developing world, responsible for the household's water supply. The Q Drum is a donut shaped plastic container which when full holds 50 litres of water. Its uniqueness lies in the design of the central hole, through which a rope is tied, to pull or roll the drum along all terrain types. No more carry on your head, just roll with it. It's the classic lesson with a twist: Don't reinvent the wheel - reinvent the way we use it. Mash a solution with a new problem.
In business development one strategy is looking into other categories of products or services to see how they compete and then applying the tools in your own category. A typical example is ecological products that started in foods, went into clothes and are now found everywhere. Or 'Light' that means low fat, low sugar, low tar etc depending on where it's applied. But the mash goes deeper. Why just lend competitive advantages when you can adopt the whole business model? For instance, subscription is the traditional business model of newspapers, but today you can subscribe to a car. I once worked with a client that applied industrial logic on service businesses, creating a highly-effective ever evolving Kaizen-type of organization.Editor to curator
If you work in communications the media industry is a good industry to follow. Not primarily because we use media to get the clients' messages across but rather that the media industry is highly innovative. Just look at any media and how its business model and services have evolved over the past decade. I talked to a senior editor at a major publishing house the other day who that said the he required his staff to work half of their time writing the news pieces and half of the time promoting them on relevant forums and social platforms. Just being an editor won't cut it in a cherry picked media world. Maybe they can look into the art scene for inspiration? In fact, being a media curator rather than just an editor makes a lot of sense - having the ability to put content into context in a broader meaning. Where is the RSS-function that gives me old news on recent topics? Where is the search engine that gives the historical or cultural back drop to current events? Maybe editors and curators is a perfect mash?
Standing on the shoulders of millions
Newton said, if I have looked farther than others, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants. Ingenuity lies in the art of combining existing concepts. And if modernity has brought us something, it is the exponential acceleration by which concepts and information are exchanged. How well equipped a brain is to solve problems has very little to do with its size or even the number of brain cells. The only numbers that count are the frequency by which signals are transferred, and the number of connections between the cells. Today we also share a nervous system of more than 500 million broadband connections allowing unprecedented group intelligence.
We are usually told that here are no new ideas, that everything is already done or thought of. Well that's the good thing. All the pieces are already there, like cowboys, the wheel or Campbell soup. Now you mash them up. You are standing on the shoulders of millions.
(This article is a mashup of blogs, news pieces, Wikipedia, college courses and client presentations)Tom Beckman is ECD at Prime, Stockholm