Prodding the Jewish Organizational World into Third Space

The Jewish organizational world needs to move away from risk-averse strategic planning at its core, and move to risk-taking creativity as its culture.

By Gary Wexler

Courtesy of The Wexner Foundation’s WexnerBLOGS

It Isn’t About Hashtags

I was asked to write about the phenomenon of “Hashtag Activism,” in light of “#JesuisCharlie”; “#JesuisJuif”; “Je suis George Clooney, the hippest celeb activist at the Golden Globes wearing a ‘Je suis Charlie’ button on stage.” So I understand in view of all this hashtag activism why I was asked to write about the subject, however, I was asked to write about the wrong thing. Yes, hashtagging is an outgrowth of a new technological era. But it is only a tiny selfie in a very big picture of change. And it is a change that Jewish organizations must understand if they are to succeed in reaching their goals.

Four Bottom-line Results

As a Communications professional, my job is to make certain that my clients reach their bottom-line goals. The results are ultimately a change in the community – supported by fundraising, advocacy and participation – and impossible to achieve without effective Communications. Today, nonprofits are under the daily scrutinous tyranny of “impact and big data,” and can actually measure whether they deliver those results. Therefore, it is more critical than ever that leaders and decision makers be educated in this new technologically-driven era as to how Communications is now absolutely central to reaching organizational results.

Groundbreaking Thinking: Third Space

So let’s look at the big picture.

There is a new construct in the world of Communications today. It’s called Third Space. Third Space thinking and action are becoming the dominant culture at the USC/Annenberg School of Communications and Journalism where I am an Adjunct Professor in the Masters of Communications Management. It was founded by the Dean, Ernest Wilson, a forward thinking mind, thoroughly committed to the emerging big ideas that emanate from the intersection of Technology and Communications.

Third Space derives its power from the fact that it dwells at the dead center of technology’s power to change business, society and a community. This is evidenced by the fact that the Internet is the democratization of technology, giving billions around the world access to the tech revolution. What is the Internet? It is a Communications tool.

This reality reflects the power and place of Communications today, which is no longer a servicing element to be brought in from the outside, but a discipline to be integrated with every aspect of an organization. Communications now represents the collaborative center of big idea creation and implementation within an organization. In today’s world, what department within an organization can function with excellence without a new-era relevant Communications strategy and the ideas it generates? Nonprofits today need a culture shift and Communications is that generator.

An Example from Change by Design

One example of Third Space thinking can be read about in Change by Design, by Tim Brown, the founder of IDEO in Silicon Valley. IDEO created the Design Thinking methodology. Design is a Communications strategy. Design Thinking brings together people from different backgrounds to work with Design Thinkers to design a product, service or culture. An outcome of this thinking is the redesign of a hospital, reaching for a less-institutional feel. Design Thinkers, after experiencing the hospital realized that most patients spent the majority of their time on their backs. Their first redesign was of the ceilings. There is total equality of opinion and ideas among the different people involved in the creation process. In the Jewish world, that would translate into total equality among board members, donors, professionals and volunteers. Let’s be frank. In Jewish life, that’s a big new idea, all in its own right. Using these same methods, how might a service or even a fundraising campaign can be “designed?”

Jewish Brains in Third Space

Today, smart, progressive businesses are demanding that their leading employees are creative big idea thinkers. Start-Up Nation, which we as a Zionist community hold up as the bible of Israel’s creative contributions to a new world economy, is evidence of what Jewish minds can achieve with Third Space thinking.

Jewish Brains Stuck in Old Space

But most Jewish organizations, when they interact with Communications, think it’s about a hashtag, a website, a social marketing campaign, an ad, a brochure, and branding, branding, branding. Of course, you may need some of these tactics. And they are easy points of focus that an organization can hold up to a board and say, “See what we’re doing.” But in reality, those things in today’s changed world don’t do much without the bigger cultural shift to Third Space thinking. And they are a manifestation of the kind of Jewish communal and organizational thinking that just keeps us scrambling and running in circles.

Jewish organizations in this case are not thinking cultural or adaptive change. They’re not thinking risk. They’re not thinking creativity. They’re not thinking big. They’re thinking little. They’re thinking fearful. They’re thinking of technical fixes, for example, hashtags, because that’s really comfortable.

Third Space and Leadership

If the Jewish organizational world is to succeed in a new era, it needs to enter into Third Space. And what this requires is that Jewish leaders, particularly lay leaders, admit they don’t know how to do this. It’s about the Jewish organizational world moving away from risk-averse strategic planning at its core, and moving into risk-taking creativity as its culture. Considering the challenges we are facing in global Jewish life today, Third Space thinking is a critical need.

The Jewish world needs to be educated about Third Space.

Gary Wexler, a Wexner Heritage alum (LA/Westfield), is an Adjunct Professor at USC/Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism, teaching Advertising, Nonprofit Advocacy, and a seminar course on American Creativity to visiting Chinese business delegations. Gary owns SeizeTheConversation, a seminar series on creativity, idea development and marketing for nonprofit organizations, business and corporate philanthropy and has worked with more than 1,000 nonprofits, including many Jewish organizations in America, Europe, Canada and Israel. Through his work at major advertising agencies ranging from Chiat/Day to DDB-Needham, Gary has produced award-winning work for Apple and Coca Cola. Gary has served on the boards of the Bureau of Jewish Education, Hillel, LA Federation, Grand Performances World Music, and USC Religion and Society. He can be reached at