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ThirdSpace: An online and Mobile platform for Gratitude and Culture

A mobile platform bridging vision & mission with water cooler culture by embracing the need for connection, gratitude, meaning & mastery.

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“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” –Peter Drucker

A company’s culture brings life to its values, and guides the decisions and actions of diverse groups of employees. Too often, management’s lack of connection to employees and lack of timely measurement prevents them from coaching and guiding the development of culture throughout the organization. In business today, employees feel disconnected to one another or to the larger purpose of their organization. In fact, only 30% of employees are engaged at work. (Garman, 2013)

When employees are not connected with each other or with the purpose of the organization, they don’t see a clear path for their future. The result is that companies have difficulty attracting and retaining quality talent. Alarmingly, over $11 billion is lost annually due to employee turnover (Lipman, 2013) while actively disengaged employees cost $450-$550 billion in lost productivity per year. (Garman, 2013)

Deliver Epic Culture

ThirdSpace solves these complex and costly problems by addressing the deeper humanistic issues, allowing employees a place to feel connected with peers, managers and the greater mission of the organization. Our approach solves for connection, engagement and ultimately culture. ThirdSpace’s value proposition goes beyond corporate chat tools, collaboration platforms, or social networks. While it contains many familiar features from social media et. al. ensuring an immediate comfort, typical social media platforms are not specifically designed for addressing the problem of culture and do not guarantee its emergence.

With ThirdSpace, employees will have the power to map out their journey, create, share and celebrate their success, and even empathize with large and small challenges. Leaders, who are integral to team development can participate in meaningful dialogs while continually measuring engagement and accomplishments. ThirdSpace bridges the top-down vision with the bottom-up “water cooler conversation” by meeting the need for interpersonal connections, mastery of your craft, and a sense of belonging to something meaningful.

Scientific Foundation

These drivers are captured in the model of self-determination theory, which provides a context for ThirdSpace and develops the kind of intrinsic motivation that keeps employees truly engaged, connected and involved. Intrinsic motivation is the self-desire to seek out new things and new challenges, to analyze one's capacity, to observe and to gain knowledge. It is driven by an interest or enjoyment in the task itself, and exists within the individual rather than relying on external pressures or a desire for reward. Intrinsic motivation can be long-lasting and self-sustaining.

Efforts to build this kind of motivation are aimed at promoting growth, learning and deep engagement. Such efforts often focus on the subject rather than external rewards or punishments, which offers powerful advantages in terms of creativity, engagement, and investment.

ThirdSpace fosters the intrinsic motivation of employees by utilizing self-determination theory to harness inherent growth tendencies and innate psychological needs. Self-determination theory identifies three innate needs that, if satisfied, allow for optimal function and growth:


• The universal search to seek agency and intention in our outcomes and to experience mastery.


• The universal want to interact, be connected to, and experience caring for others.


• The universal urge to be causal agents of one's own life and act in harmony with one's integrated self, while also being connected with others.

By addressing these areas, ThirdSpace provides social context events like feedback on work, engagement with colleagues, or rewards which lead to feelings of competence and enhance intrinsic motivations. Deci, 1975, found positive feedback enhanced intrinsic motivations and negative feedback diminished it. (Deci, 1975) Vallerand and Reid, 1984, went further and found that these effects were being mediated by perceived control. (R. J. Vallerand, 1984)

It’s worth noting that autonomy must accompany competence for people to see their behaviors as self-determined by intrinsic motivation. For this to happen there must be immediate contextual support for both needs or inner resources based on prior development support for both needs. (Reeve, 1996)

Self-determination theory and intrinsic motivation is also linked to relatedness through the hypothesis that intrinsic motivation flourishes if linked with a sense of security and relatedness. Grolnick and Ryan, 1989, found significantly higher intrinsic motivation and creativity in students who believed their teachers were warm, engaged and able to fulfill relatedness needs, and it’s not difficult to see how this finding would extend to any place of work. (W. S. Grolnick, 1989)

Self-determination theory and Intrinsic Motivation serve as the theoretical underpinnings of, and inspiration for ThirdSpace to drive employee engagement and values of company culture. Culture can be elusive and ineffable, but ThirdSpace turns “coworkers” into colleagues and collaborators. It transforms “tasks” into challenges and opportunities while creating the kind of meaning based investment and cohesion required for any successful team.

Cultural Journey

ThirdSpace is a personal guide on the journey towards mastery. It can be your coach, your Sensei, your guru, your jungle guide by fostering connection through real conversations, relating people to each other, building friendships, sharing values, and growing a supportive culture.

With a supportive culture, team members relate to how vital their contributions are towards fulfilling the larger mission. You have the freedom to create, explore, challenge, wonder, and wander. Through that freedom, you'll innovate in ways large and small.

Beyond a social network or a communication platform, ThirdSpace was conceived and crafted by scientists, business experts, game designers, artists and software developers. Informed directly by customer needs and pains, we solve the problem of providing meaning with context. ThirdSpace is a place fostering collaboration, engagement, encouragement, and innovation. It encourages us to bring the outside in; bring the whole of us in and be amazing!

Idea Title

Let's Create Epic Culture through connection, meaning, gratitude and mastery!

How the Idea will inspire the experience and expression of gratitude within an organization.

Gratitude is an emotional outcome of behaviors and actions. Typically poor behaviors are the root of organizational problems. Additionally, for gratitude to impact someone on an emotional level, it must be authentic and authenticity must be anchored in trust. Going deeper, trust requires human connection on a meaningful level. ThirdSpace was built to be used by both management & employees focused at the core of human connection, embracing us as a whole person, inviting us to tell stories, share, learn, fail and grow. Once connection, trust and positive behaviors are established, then interactions within the system can yield feelings gratitude, worth & fulfillment as a natural result.

Who are you innovating for?

ThirdSpace is designed for workers or members of any organization. It focuses on employees (not management, but management DOES participate). It also focuses on intrinsic motivation and not extrinsic rewards such as prizes, badges, pay, and benefits. People feel alone, isolated and depressed in the workplace. We spend 8 to 12 hours per day at work and this is a sad state of being. Our goal is to rekindle the fire in the belly to welcome each day with excitement and hope.

What type of workplaces are you innovating for?

Small to mid-size businesses and organizations are an underserved market. They often can't afford large enterprise solutions for technical and economic reasons. Our target workplace is a business with a distributed workforce, fast growing, gone through mergers or acquisition, a heterogeneous workforce of Boomers/GenXers/GenY and finally aspires to create a closer connection & meaning in the workplace. They may even use terms like "family" or "team" or "tribe" to describe each other.

How you envision the Idea being introduced to your selected organization?

We developed a cloud based software-as-a-service platform. There is no heavy technical installation or upkeep. It's all hosted on Amazon Web Services. Workers use it on a web browser or mobile device. We can deploy any number of licenses in minutes. To find organizations, we look at leaders, managers, human resources and any champion interested in creating a better organizational culture. We can reach them via content marketing, trade shows, social media marketing and trade organizations. Partnerships with coaches and consultants who focus on organizational development would be helpful partners. Research experts may provide additional rigor for testing & efficacy of our design.

What obstacles, if any, do you foresee in implementing this Idea, and how would they be overcome?

There are always competitive products that tangentially claim to address culture and gratitude. However, the biggest challenge we may face are managers who superficially try to improve the workplace with empty gestures like beer kegs, ping pong tables, and pets at work. We offer a combination of research, business results and an opportunity to pilot ThirdSpace without risk. Using lean innovation approaches, we can start small rapidly proving we move the needle in a meaningful way.

How will you test and prototype your solution?

We've piloted ThirdSpace with 19 companies as of Q4, 17. This approach unearthed technical issues & also created a design feedback loop. We iterated based on audience feedback making sure to address what is most important and impactful. We've also had peer review of the product by researchers at UW Madison and U of Chicago. They have helped to maximize efficacy of the features & design. Additional testing comes by continual pilots, customer use & collaborative design with customers.

What immediate next steps will you take if you receive an implementation grant.

Our product is ready to be deployed en masse. There is a huge need for ThirdSpace in the non-profit industry and we welcome early adopters to try the platform Our product roadmap calls for additional feature development, so we'd love the opportunity to work with a mentoring organization to help ensure our value proposition is fulfilled, pressure test the design & assist in guiding commercial viability.

At what stage of development is your Idea?

  • Prototyping: You have conducted some small tests or experiments with prospective users and will continue developing idea through these tests.
  • Piloting: You have started to implement your solution as a whole with a first set of real users. You may have started to develop a business model for your idea, including identifying key customer segments, relevant partnerships, go-to-market strategy, and draft financials.
  • Full-scale roll-out: You have developed a pilot, tested, and analyzed the impact of that pilot as it pertains to the problem scope. You are ready to expand the pilot significantly and begin to scale.

Please describe from where your Idea emerged

Personal experience was the root of our idea. Many companies espouse to be innovative & cutting edge, so they chase technology but miss one of the greatest resources - their people. Lip service is paid to workers. Yet, even Human Resources has lost the humanistic aspect of their role. The workplace is broken & our primary research revealed feelings of isolation, loneliness and depression. This was backed up by secondary research and lead to our focus on Self-Determination Theory as our core.

Tell us about yourself

Scott Kohl -software development, gamification, higher education, entrepreneur, Design Thinking & Lean Innovation| Dr. Scott Jens - entrepreneur, cloud-based SAAS expert, business leader for delivering at scale | Zach Blumenfeld- B2B sales, digital marketing & domain expertise in Human Resource Software | Todd Hoskins- expert in organizational strategy, ecology, network science, psychology

Where are you / your team located?

Madison, Wisconsin and Chicago, Illinois AND ThirdSpace for remote members.

Please describe your legal and organizational structure

ThirdSpace is a registered LLC in Madison, Wisconsin

Company / Organization Name

ThirdSpace LLC


Tell us about your experience

Thank you for this opportunity! I'm an entrepreneur having started a game based learning company about 8 years ago. I've been a college level teacher in economics, and I've worked in the video game, telematics and music industry. Recently I worked with a lean innovation team from Intuit to learn design thinking, user experience design, and customer empathy. As inferred from above, I see a strong link between gratitude & workplace culture. It's a field I've been working/living in for > 4 years.

Please describe, in detail, how you will test and get feedback on your concept.

“Test & learn” has been the foundation of ThirdSpace [“3S”]. Our goal was to validate & measure the problem of workplace gratitude, connection & ultimately culture. Before launching 3S Alpha in 2016, we conducted research with hundreds of executives & managers from a variety of industries. Research was 1:1 interviews & roundtable format. 3S also has space for users to share feedback, bugs & improvements. To date we’ve had over 25 pilots from small organizations to our largest which has 500+. The pilots provided feedback but direct user behavior feedback is gleaned from within the system. We continue to gain insights in feedback from surveys that create benchmarks & help with the continued growth of 3S. For example, in Nov ‘17, we conducted a survey of 300 users in addition to Senior managers. We have also received feedback from different presentations/pitches. 3S has been judged & evaluated from a viability standpoint as a business & as potential investment by venture groups.

Please describe specifically how you plan to scale your idea. What are the key next steps you will take, and how will those steps inform the evolution and growth of your concept?

We consider scaling along two paths. There is vertical scaling by obtaining deeper engagement from current users ensuring efficacy of design. Orthogonally, spreading the platform to a broad range of businesses & organizations is another way to scale. As part of our pilots we are testing with a range of organizations from traditional offices, established organizations, startups, light manufacturing, higher education & nonprofits. From a business perspective scaling vertically & horizontally requires working capital. We are pursuing several channels such as debt based financing with business loans, venture capital, direct sales & channel partner sales. Likely we’ll use a combination of methods to grow. Once we have secured funding & generating enough revenue, we will further develop our ideas, but also hire more employees to help scale further. In addition, 3S is a Software as a service platform, so it’s easy to add more organizations & users through the web services of Amazon. The more users we have in our system, the more feedback we can receive, the more parallel feedback & development loops we can generate which will help shape 3S deepening the mission of gratitude & culture. In addition to directly scaling our product, we take any speaking opportunity that comes our way. We want to help spread of mission by sharing our research & philosophies. Here is a presentation by one of our co-founders on connecting your teams to your mission & making what you do matter.

As we have seen in the Challenge, there is a tension between authentic expressions of gratitude and mandatory gratitude. How does your idea inspire truly authentic expressions of gratitude versus mandated ones?

Positive relationships are founded on trust requiring vulnerability from both management & staff. Gratitude is a practice & outcome but coerced gratitude has a negative effect on culture. 3S develops “muscle memory” by inviting behaviors with intrinsic rewards. Features contribute to being connected & having autonomy perpetuating trust among managers & staff. The cycle creates relationships & culture fostering a safe PLACE with authentic expressions of gratitude, sharing & validation of worth.

Gratitude often thrives when opportunities for connection are created. How will your concept create new opportunities for human connection?

Workplace connection necessitates shared experience & purpose. Designing for that means increasing participation, transparency & mutual understanding. 3S empowers users to share stories & artifacts creating limbic resonance around an experience amplifying the connection.For gratitude to flourish actions & behaviors within & around 3S become more meaningful as real world experiences are a necessary component. 3S becomes a connector, amplifier & extender of the experience between people & groups.

Who (specifically) will benefit from your concept, and how they will interact with it? What design considerations have you included to ensure easy and intuitive interactions? 

To make 3S easily accessible we have a mobile & web responsive app hosted on Amazon. No IT support or infrastructure is needed for an organization. 3S has notifications & a variety of preference settings to trigger involvement. We enlisted professional UX designers so 3S conforms to Universal Design standards & UX/UI best practices. Future design may involve localization of languages, ethnic groups & physically impaired. Ensuring intuitive design results from agile test & learn methodology. Using a cultural anthropologist’s lens, we study a design or feature in the wild. Then “paper test” it. Next refine & implement in software understanding that functionality may evolve as we learn. The platform is NOT about living solely online, rather 3S is a new channel to reach & connect. Users need to go out into the real world & share back within 3S. Gratitude needs to upwell organically, but also needs support from above. It’s critical that management be actively involved as much as staff.

Please describe how you intend to use the prize funding, if selected as a Top Idea. Be specific.

An overlooked need is the non-profit sector with people volunteering for mission-based pursuits. They are moved by deeper purpose yet they need to be connected & filled up emotionally to continue their missions. Having a tool to help connect, share stories, trials, triumphs & wisdom would be powerful. United Way is interested in using our software & we can use funding to specifically tune 3S for meeting their operational & outreach needs - along with other organizations in the nonprofit sector.
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Attachments (17)

Full Report Nov 17 REV360 Feedback on ThirdSpace.pdf

Recent November 2017 user feedback from a pilot customer RevEHR Inc. Additional User Interface testing, testing results, interview scripts and testing methods can be found in Google Drive.

Key Links for Additional Research and Support.docx

This document contains Google Drive links to additional research and support materials. It contains early concepts and iterations to near final designs. Testing and results are included as well.

ThirdSpace Go to Market Plan.pdf

Our business plan that covers market fit, problem, solution, how we sell, competition and rough projections.


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