Feb 5, 2021

We make tomorrow: In conversation with Catherine Norbeck

How a cultural yearning to be the best helps us lead organizationally and scientifically

Catherine Norbeck, Director of Learning & Organizational Development

Zymergen isn’t content as a leader only in materials and chemicals. We’re also making the workplace of tomorrow, based on shared values and empathetic leadership. Catherine Norbeck, our Director of Learning & Organizational Development, shares how. #WeMakeTomorrow

What are you excited about right now?
“The collective mindset at Zymergen is so forward-thinking. It’s exciting to be in a place where there’s already a strong conceptual understanding of, for example, what makes knowledge workers work best. For example, many here already understand that what motivates someone isn’t just pure financial incentives. And it isn’t even just autonomy or mastery or purpose. As an organization, I think we understand that a leader demonstrating humility and courage and vulnerability is, at the end of the day, good for the team. To me, it’s very exciting to be somewhere so culturally aware and dedicated to excellence because it creates an opportunity for ambitious and creative work.”

How do you describe what Zymergen does to people who don’t know anything about science?
“It’s tricky, but to me, it’s a story of reexamining how we look at nature. For so long, we’ve built materials in a way that was disjointed from nature. You know, we were using fossil fuels that had to be extracted, grotesquely, from the ground. But there’s all this knowledge that exists in the natural world that we’ve overlooked for so long. So, Zymergen tries to figure out, on a molecular level, what’s happening in that natural world and then leverages that knowledge to create actual products. Biology is this prolific producer and using biology to make things is like supercharged manufacturing.”

What excites you about the future at Zymergen?
“So, part of what I mentioned earlier — about our culture being forward-thinking — is that there’s this cultural yearning to be the ‘best.’ For example, my team is working on building a foundational manager curriculum so that there’s more consistency and engagement across the organization. We’re working to create a new way to lead. I love how this parallels Zymergen’s motto of ‘making tomorrow’ — we’re making the tomorrow of leadership. Because the starting point at Zymergen is that our team members are capable, engaged, learning, and want to do good work, there’s a really exciting opportunity to think bigger and define what tomorrow means for our leaders and our teams. This is a rich environment for ideation and development.”