The Nesting Principle: Practical Applications for Breakthrough Thinking

By January 20, 2021January 28th, 2021LTEN Bonus Focus

By Phil Sigler

“The Nesting Principle” addresses the paradox that exists in us as human beings: While we need to create an environment that is safe and secure, that same need prevents us from achieving our highest capacities and potentials. I base The Nesting Principle on more than 20 years of observations from multiple corporate roles, primarily sales training, and from extensive work with meeting planning teams.

This article is a companion to “The Nesting Principle: The Flight to Breakthrough Thinking,” an article in the Spring 2021 issue of LTEN Focus on Training magazine. Look for that issue in February 2021.


Better Brainstorming

Nesting blocks brainstorming.

Meetings meant to generate solutions to a business challenge serve as a hallmark example of nesting on a team level where insulation prevents fully exploring ideas.

At these meetings, everyone sits in the same seats relative to every other team meeting: The leader sits at the head of the table, the person responsible for projecting the slide deck sits at the front and everyone else takes up residence where it was established from the previous nine meetings. No one will deviate from this.

Further mucking up the brainstorming works is that everyone’s personality will dictate how they engage in the session, from Expressives being overly social, Drivers being overly dominant and Supporters being overly reserved.

Alex Osborne coined the term “brainstorming” more than 50 years ago. His theory was that people have limited imaginations when working alone, thus working in a group creates multiple solutions to any given challenge. Many recent articles refute the productivity of group brainstorming, citing such hinderances as “fear of judgement,” “the loudest voices get the most attention” and “everyone leans toward what the leader wants to hear.” Leaders struggle to change their team’s dynamics.


Four-Step Solution

There are many articles and blogs that have come out recently on better brainstorming. Here is one four-step method for solution storming:

  • Step 1: Hold an initial “challenge orientation meeting,” 15 minutes total. One slide with a maximum three bullet points: Clearly and concisely outline the challenge. Have printouts of the challenge slide – one for each participant. Each person takes their challenge slide to their desk.
  • Step 2: Each person must legibly write down/type out all their ideas regarding the challenge. There are no points for highest number of ideas! One person is designated “idea collector” and gathers everyone’s notes (no peeking) and returns them to the leader, completed within one business day from the challenge orientation meeting. The leader reviews the notes and compiles the ideas into categories.
  • Step 3: Hold a “challenge ideation meeting,” 55 minutes total. The leader presents a slide deck with all the ideas – no names attached to any of the ideas. Have printouts of the slide deck for all participants to have as reference. The leader can ask for clarification on ideas when needed. Participants go back to their offices to review the ideation slide deck. Participants must note feasibility and resource load for all ideas.
  • Step 4: Hold the final “solution storming meeting,” 55 minutes total. The leader reviews each idea slide. The group outlines their perspectives on the feasibility, resource load and risk/benefit of taking/not taking action on each idea.

The leader makes the ultimate decision, with a fully creative review. Each member of the team feels heard and connected.


Talent Development Planning

Nesting prevents managers from developing and ultimately selecting from diverse talent pools. A quote I heard a long time ago is funny because it’s true: Don’t be so good at your job that you can’t get promoted!

When you’re good at something, leaders want you to keep doing that and only that. At the same time, leaders can struggle to see you doing anything else, taking your capabilities and applying them to a new role.

Nesting reveals a frustrating side when it comes to developing talent, especially when employees are working toward positions of added responsibilities. Leaders will often spend time developing employees they are comfortable with, providing opportunities on key projects and consequently and predictably promoting those individuals even in the face of other qualified candidates.

In my own career, I have been given the feedback of “you need more visibility,” “I had to show loyalty to my team” and “the person I chose knows the geography better” as reasons for not getting a promotion. These reasons, while surely valid on one level, demonstrate a degree of fear in taking a risk on someone that isn’t part of their nesting community.

Many leaders can demonstrate breaking out of the nest by expanding their field of candidates early on and hiring and promoting individuals who are outside their traditional scope. This would demonstrate to all employees that they have a true chance with that leader to expand their capabilities and would motivate everyone to sharpen their skills.

  • Hiring Managers: Ask yourself, “What one person can I mentor who is outside of my current social network?” Set up a monthly meeting with the individual to determine alignment on capabilities, aspirations and key projects.
  • Employees: Seek out leaders and colleagues who aren’t a traditional fit with your project work. Learn their history and what they are passionate about. Find a bridge with potential future projects.
  • Define what “visibility” means: Managers should have their heads on a swivel and seek out the work of others. Employees should find ways to demonstrate your work to a variety of leaders and colleagues. Go beyond talking about resumes and invite observations of action.
  • Expand your network: Ask those you keep in touch with whom they talk to. Request an introduction. Ask open-ended questions to generate productive dialogue.

When we get to a point where we actively encourage those around us to shift their nests, and thus create a new sense of freedom in doing so, we can begin practicing new perspectives that just might change how we approach each other, at home and at work. That, in turn, might change the world. Maybe not the entire world, but at least our world of inclusion and opportunity.

Philip Sigler is director, talent strategy & development, for Sumitomo Dainippon Pharma America (SDPA). Email Phil at  The commentary in this article does not necessarily reflect the policies, views or opinions of SDPA.

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