Third Space Thinking

COMM 211x

Professional Effectiveness: Building a Career through Third Space Thinking

Third Space Thinking is a communication-driven toolkit for solving problems. The toolkit is borne out of USC research which discovered that the single greatest competitive challenge corporations face today is recruiting a new skillset – not engineering skills nor business skills – but rather a third space of skills marked by communication and collaboration acumen. Students educated in Third Space Thinking will be skilled in group problem solving and communication effectiveness. This course builds skill in the five Third Space attributes. They are:

  1. Adaptability: Demonstrate mental agility and tolerance for risk in ambiguous situations; be flexible when handling change and less likely to rely on legacy solutions. Think beyond black-and-white to the gray areas, and ask expansive, unexpected questions that lead to better solutions.
  2. Cultural Competence: Have a capacity to think, act and move across multiple boundaries of functions, silos and global cultures, including the sometimes insular worlds of engineering, law, and business.
  3. Empathy: Formally listen to the needs of the people involved the ecosystem a product/service. Demonstrate emotional intelligence and effective listening and collaboration skills. Consider and include the views of others across a variety of disciplines, cultures and perspectives.
  4. Intellectual Curiosity: Asking questions makes the invisible visible. Have a deep hunger to learn and grow. Show a desire to dig deep – to be creative and willing to risk and experiment in order to learn. Ask questions in structured format.
  5. 360 Degree Thinking: Think holistically – understand the full ecosystem of a problem across time and multiple touchpoints, recognize patterns, and make imaginative leaps based on those patterns.

Students will build ACEIT skills via in class exercises and assignments. And students will use TST’s human-centric problem solving tools to develop solutions for a real world partner who will participate in the class – such as a campus entity. Requirements: This is a 2-unit course for letter grade. Each week students will receive a combination of short lectures, ACEIT exercises, and problem solving exercises. Students will work in teams to create a final class project using the TST tools.

Chris Swain is an entrepreneur, designer, author, and founding member of the strategic design firm R/GA Interactive in NYC ( R/GA grew from 4 people to over 200 designers, engineers, and artists and $0 to over $50mm in annual revenue during his time with the company. R/GA now has 14 offices on four continents and over 1800 employees. Chris led strategic design initiatives for clients that include: Intel, IBM, Sony, AT&T, Disney, NASDAQ, Kodak, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Warner Brothers, Discovery, BBC, and many others. Chris is also a longtime USC faculty member. At USC he co-founded the Electronic Arts Game Innovation Lab and was one the original game faculty at the university. Via his lab Chris explored play mechanics in a research setting. He developed methodology to solve hard UX problems with original play mechanics. His thesis students have gone on to win multiple Game of the Year Awards in industry. Chris led many other projects at USC including for Rockefeller Foundation, Gates Foundation, Annenberg Center, LA Times, and the US National Counterterrorism Center. His USC lab project, The Redistricting Game, is a staple in the redistricting reform community. His game, Ecotopia, was created in collaboration with Conservation International and translated in-game actions by players into real world impact – specifically in into thousands of trees being planted in the Brazilian rain forest. In industry, Chris led game projects for companies that include: Microsoft, Sony, Disney, Activision, NBC, MTV, Game Show Network, Turner Network Television, and others. His game projects have won over two dozen design awards. Notable games include the world’s first massively multiplayer casual game NetWits – original IP which Swain sold to the Microsoft Network; Multiplayer Jeopardy!; and Multiplayer Wheel of Fortune. The Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune games were landmark hits for Sony Online that helped establish the then new, business of online casual games. Chris created Cred.FM which was a venture funded music discovery network built on the Youtube platform.

To learn more about Third Space Thinking and the workshops we offer, please visit the USC Annenberg Center for Third Space Thinking at