Third Space Company: IBM's Marketing Innovation Lab

One company that has gone out of its way to locate, hire and nurture people with Third Space traits and inject them into an environment where they can make a difference is IBM. Like all big companies, IBM has many “hardskilled,” linear-thinking experts in operations, but relatively few people who exhibit the broader Third Space core competencies.

To leverage the skills of those with demonstrated Third Space skills and to enhance collaboration and communication between people in marketing and other constituencies across the company, like R&D and sales, IBM has set up its Marketing Innovation Group.

The group manages a portfolio of internal start-ups that use enterprise data and platforms to develop new technology services and digital experiences. Broad categories in the lab portfolio include web and mobile application development, digital marketing services development and digital experience innovation, including sales engagement and employee engagement.

Working side-by-side in the IBM Studios are 250 writers, interaction designers, user experience professionals, developers, graphic designers and others.

People who work in the group are trained in lean start-up techniques and the Agile method of product development, which Ben Edwards, IBM’s VP of Global Digital Marketing, learned to use when running the digital media business at The Economist. (Applying something that is used in one context to another is a hallmark of the Third Space Thinker, and Edwards’ application of the Agile (software development) methodology to marketing projects is unique.)

A descendent of lean manufacturing methodology, Agile is an empirical method emphasizing short cycles of planning and execution that teams use to learn their way toward solving problems. This collaborative methodology has provided a model for cross-functional teamwork. “It becomes a way to bridge how we work together as marketers and technologists,” says Edwards.

IBM screens prospects carefully to ensure that they have the intellectual curiosity and enterprising nature to be successful in the Marketing Innovation Group, and then offers classes and workshops in the methodology. “Those who succeed are very valuable for us,” says Jon Iwata, IBM’s Senior Vice President, Marketing and Communications, and a USC Annenberg Third Space Founding Advisor. “I just wish we had more of these people.”