Our Mission

USC Annenberg Center for Third Space Thinking has developed a new, communication-driven, research-based methodology to frame and solve problems that can help organizations and individuals make better, wiser decisions in today’s complex and ever-changing world.

Somewhere between the important, but limited conventional engineer’s mindset and the MBA’s toolkit lies the third space of communication-centric thinking and its critical “soft” skills that most experts agree are the hardest to find, define, nurture and leverage.

Through our research, we have uncovered five attributes that when successfully combined can complement and extend the two dominant, more traditional strategic approaches offered by engineering and MBA thinking. These competencies and the distinctive way of thinking they unlock are critical to success in today’s continually disrupted world, yet are grossly under supplied in the market.

Third Space Thinking, created by Dr. Ernest J. Wilson III alongside Annenberg’s renowned professors, is based on four years of in-depth, multi-method research around the world, including conversation with 75 global business leaders, combined with deep analytics from Korn Ferry, McKinsey and Boston Consulting Group that led us to uncover a new, strategic space others had over looked.

The Third Space model builds upon the core element of the new global reality. As the communications revolution rushes to the center of modern society, success now demands new innovative ways of thinking and acting in the face of radical changes. Armed with the five attributes of Adaptability, Cultural Competency, Empathy, Intellectual Curiosity, and 360-Degree Thinking, our partners are better able to seize amazing new opportunities and reduce dangerous risks in today’s digital, communication-rich world. We invite you to join and co-create our future collaborative space together.

Core Attributes

Based on our research we uncovered five attributes that are critical to success in today’s complex world, yet are grossly under supplied in the market. Those competencies are:



Demonstrates mental agility and remains comfortable with ambiguity and flexible in the face of continual change. Capable of effective problem-solving and exploration of various alternative scenarios by drawing upon principles from multiple disciplines, including design, technology and economics as well as communications.


Cultural Competency

Demonstrates emotional and cross-cultural intelligence; capable of working inclusively and respectfully with others of various cultures and orientations. Also demonstrates organizational intelligence and broad, cross-functional thinking, shunning the limitations of structural, geographic, departmental, or other organizational boundaries that may hinder effective problem-solving and goal attainment.



Capable of understanding others’ priorities and perspectives by engaging in active listening and focusing on reflective responses that clarify and strengthen dialogue. Able to effectively interpret others’ viewpoints and integrate these insights into more effective approaches for problem-solving and need fulfillment.


Intellectual Curiosity

Possesses a hunger for knowledge that fuels ever-higher levels of learning and performance. Strives for measureable growth and demonstrates emotional intelligence and savvy with regard to organizational and cultural mores.


360-Degree Thinking

Takes a holistic, multi-dimensional, analytical approach to problem-solving. Able to convert information into insights, considering potential relationships between disparate data points and engaging in sense-making by “connecting the dots.”

Our Team

Ernest James Wilson III

Founding Director of the Center for Third Space Thinking

Ernest James Wilson III, Ph.D., served two terms as the Walter Annenberg Chair in Communication and Dean of the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California. He is also a professor of political science, a faculty fellow at the USC Center on Public Diplomacy at the Annenberg School, a board […]

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Shellee Smith

Executive Director

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Rebecca Weintraub

Faculty Advisor

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Jonathan Taplin

Faculty Advisor

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Jaime Carias

Fellow, USC Annenberg Center for Third Space Thinking

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Board of Advisors

David Bishop

President of David Bishop Media, Inc

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Paul Bricault

Managing Partner Amplify.LA and Venture Partner Greycroft Partners

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Bill Chandler

Senior Advisor, Third Space

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Seth Jacobsen

Principal, JCI Worldwide

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Robert Kozinets

Chair of Strategic Public Relations at USC Annenberg

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Ted Kraus

Investment Director at TechCode AI Accelerator

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Tracy Lawrence

Member Board of Advisors at Nile Capital

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Kevin Lynch

Chief Global Officer, Deloitte

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Mauricio Mota

Co-president and Executive Producer, Wise Entertainment

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Thomas Pernice

President and Founder of Modena Holding Corporation

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Don Spetner

Senior Corporate Advisor, Weber Shandwick

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Kirk Stewart

Founder and CEO of KTStewart

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Chris Swain

Principal, Swain Corporation

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Jill Totenberg

CEO of The Totenberg Group

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Gary Wexler

Senior Advisor/Creative

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Leaders and key faculty from USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism have conducted deep dive consultations with 75 C-suite and senior communications executives, from a broad range of industries and from Fortune 50 companies to media start-ups, to better understand the depth and breadth of challenges they’re facing. Read our white paper that further defines the scale and scope of Third Space and its core attributes.

Learn how executives applied the Third Space competencies in Walt Disney’s acquisition of Pixar in 2006.

Additional Resources

  • "The Surprising Thing Google Learned about its Employees–And what it Means for Today’s Students,"

    The Washington Post, January 3, 2018

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  • "Why soft skills are so important to the future of work,"

    x.ai, November 2, 2017

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  • "Putting Lifelong Learning on the CEO agenda,"

    McKinsey & Company, September 1, 2017

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  • "6 Soft Skills Technical Employees Need To Thrive,"

    Forbes, August 26, 2017

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  • "Tech’s Damaging Myth of the Loner Genius Nerd,"

    New York Times, August 12, 2017

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  • "In the AI Age, “Being Smart” Will Mean Something Completely Different,"

    Harvard Business Review, June 19, 2017

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  • "Why Soft Kills Matter and the Top 3 You Need,"

    Forbes, March 10, 2017

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  • "Why Artificial Intelligence Needs Some Emotional Intelligence,"

    strategy+business, March 9, 2017

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  • "Soft Skills Training Boosts Productivity,"

    University of Michigan News, January 19, 2017

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  • "Why Start Up Leaders Need to Use Third Space Thinking,"

    Inc., November 25, 2016

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  • "Hunting for Soft Skills, Companies Scoop Up English Majors,"

    The Wall Street Journal, October 25, 2016

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  • "Soft Skills Are Increasingly Crucial to Getting Your Dream Job,"

    LinkedIn, August 30, 2016

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  • "Employers Find ‘Soft Skills” Like Critical Thinking in Short Supply,"

    The Wall Street Journal, August 30, 2016

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  • "Employers Find ‘Soft Skills’ Like Critical Thinking on Short Supply,"

    The Wall Street Journal, August 20, 2016

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  • "An unexpected path to business insight: Internal Communications,"

    PR Week, August 19, 2016

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  • "Empathy, not Bureaucracy, Makes Organizations Great-Leadership Lessons,"

    Forbes, July 6, 2016

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  • "The Power of ‘Why?’ and ‘What If?’,"

    NY Times, July 2, 2016

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  • "What the Best Cross-Cultural Managers Have in Common,"

    Harvard Business Review, June 29, 2016

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  • "Companies Try a New Strategy: Empathy Training,"

    The Wall Street Journal, June 21, 2016

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  • "What’s the Value of a Liberal Arts Education in Our 21st Century Digital Economy,"

    The Wall Street Journal, March 4, 2016

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  • "Job Skills Report 2016: What Recruiters Want,"

    Bloomberg Business, February 9, 2016

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  • "The 5 Skills Employers Seek in Today’s Digital Economy,"

    Entrepreneur, January 30, 2016

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  • "Eight Careers Skills You Need to be Competitive in 2016,"

    Fast Company, January 13, 2016

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  • "Empathy is Still Lacking in the Leaders Who Need it Most,"

    Harvard Business Review, September 21, 2015

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  • "The ‘Useless’ Liberal Arts Degree Has Become Tech’s Hottest Ticket,"

    Forbes, July 29, 2015

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  • "5 Skills Employers Want that You Won’t See in a Job Ad,"

    Fortune, June 10, 2015

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  • "Wrapping up Innovation for Winter 2015,"

    C-Suite Quarterly, January 1, 2015

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  • "Reforming Engineering Education: The Changing Face of Engineering Education,"

    National Academy of Engineering, December 3, 2008

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