Profit or Planet? John Bissell, CEO at Origin Materials Reveals How Purpose is the Key to Win Both

by | Apr 16, 2024

John Bissell, Co-CEO and a pivotal innovator in the chemical industry, shares his insights on driving sustainable change and leveraging technology for environmental progress. With a unique blend of technological savvy and entrepreneurial spirit, Bissell has been at the forefront of developing sustainable materials, focusing on both environmental impact and commercial viability.

In this episode of the Culture Leaders Podcast, John Bissell discusses the intricacies of balancing profitability with sustainability, the transformative power of technology in addressing global environmental challenges, and the critical role of leadership in navigating the complexities of modern business. He delves into the mindset required for innovative entrepreneurship and the strategic approach to fostering a culture of adaptability and growth.

Join us as John Bissell takes us through his journey in the chemical industry, reflecting on the importance of making conscious decisions that benefit both humanity and the planet, and the future of sustainable practices in business.


“We’re bringing technology that is a meaningful part of the once in a planet change to sustainable materials and energy production.” – John Bissell

“You have to make explicit decisions and trade-offs between making money and long-term benefit.” – John Bissell “Hacking capitalism is leveraging the system of capitalism to scale your purpose.” – John Bissell

“It’s all about bringing new technology and making the human species better by bringing new technology to the market.” – John Bissell

“My why really is focus on the same thing as the mission of the company, Origin, which is how can I bring technologies to the world or to humanity that really advance human health, the planet. You know, it’d be nice to make some money along the way for people that are involved.” – John Bissell


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Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Okay. Tell us, what is your why?

John Bissell: Yeah, you know, as I see myself really as both a technologist and an entrepreneur. And so my why really is, um, focus on the same thing as the mission of the company, uh, origin, which is how can I bring technologies to the world or to humanity, um, that really advance, um, human health, um, the planet, you know, it’d be nice to make some money along the way for people that are involved.

But it’s really how do I as a human being make the rest of humanity better by bringing the right technologies to scale?

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Okay, so how do you get people who feel like there’s a conflict in there? You were like, we wanna make the world a better place, also we kind of wanna make money. Sometimes those feel like they’re at odds with each other. How do you marry those two things in your head or in your decision making day to day?

John Bissell: Yeah, there are definitely trade-offs and there are places where those two things are really nicely aligned. Obviously, we look for the places where they’re nicely aligned. We try to identify and be explicit about the trade-offs. But there’s no question, like any other two constraints or two objectives, you’re going to have places where you need to make a decision that’s going to trade off between the two. I think of it sometimes sort of like, you know, short-run gains versus long-run gains or long-term gains.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm-hmm.

John Bissell: Sometimes really nicely aligned and sometimes they’re not. You have to make explicit decisions and trade-offs between the two. You know, the way that we look for people that fit into that culture and understand how to make the trade-offs the way that we want them to make the trade-offs is we look for people who are aligned in the way that they think about technology and society and people and sort of improvement. And what that means is…we want people who believe in technologies that really enable the human species to do more and to do it better.

And we find that if people are aligned with that, and by the way, that’s not everybody. It may sound like a really nice, easy thing to go find, but there are a lot of people who don’t particularly align themselves that way. They think about things as, well, what did I do today? Manufacturing people, for example, will canonically be, what did I do today?

That made stuff that I can tally up on a board. They need to have that to be successful manufacturing people. But that is not necessarily aligned with the concept of bringing technology to the world and to human species, right? Those are not the same sort of skill sets and motivations. And so we look for people who have that alignment around that focus on bringing new technology and making the human species better by bringing new technology to the market.

And then we look for the other things after that. Then we look for that manufacturing sort of daily drive. We look for the design precision or whatever else it is that we’re looking for the role. So, but that’s what we sort of align around. And that way we find people make, I mean, generally the right kinds of trade-offs or the kinds of trade-offs that we think are the right trade-offs in the making money versus long-term benefit.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Okay, so you are in a unique situation, which is that you’re a co-CEO. Tell us about how your co-CEO might’ve answered that question differently.

John Bissell: Ooh, that’s a good question. So he would say that you almost never actually have to look for the trade-off. That actually, if you can find the line, and to be fair, in some context, I’ll make that same argument. But if you can find the right line, then, look, we’re bringing technology.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Hmm

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Hehehehe

John Bissell: That is a meaningful part of the sort of once in a planet change to sustainable materials and energy production. And it’s really hard to make an argument that there’s a larger market or opportunity on the planet than that. And so if we’re doing that really well, then of course, we’re going to make a lot of money doing it. And of course, that’s one of the most important things that anybody in the world could be working on right now, if you’re successful.

The flip side of that is if you’re doing something where you’re trading off the making money part too aggressively, well, then you’re not wielding capitalism as a scaling capability, right? As a scaling function. And if you’re not doing that, then you’re not gonna have the impact you want. And so really, sometimes it gets really simple.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Wait. back. You’re not wielding capitalism as a scaling function. What? I feel smart and I have no idea what that means. Tell me more.

John Bissell: So, yeah, so one way to think about capitalism is that it’s a selection process. It’s a selection process that prioritizes making more money. And it does that really, really well. And if you, I think we’ve all experienced the kind of extreme scale that we’ve seen that’s the result of capitalism. It’s the same kind of scale you get as a result of natural selection, right?

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm-hmm.

John Bissell: And so if you want to scale anything, the way you do it most obviously is by making it really profitable and making it something that customers really want. And if you can do those two things, then you’re basically, you’re doing exactly what, you’re hacking capitalism, let’s call it that, right? Most of the time we call it making a successful business, right? But…

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm.

John Bissell: But what you’re doing is you’re driving insane scale. You can do that just for the purpose of doing it, which is how most people think about it, right? But you can also do that because you want the scale for some other reason. And so from our perspective, to have beneficial impact on the planet, you need scale. We can’t do this as a local neighbor, friendly neighborhood chemical company. That doesn’t work.

It doesn’t have the effect that we want. And so you have to have the scale that capitalism breaks. Right? That’s how you get resources allocated, etc.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Okay.

So let me say it back to you another way and you tell me if I understood what you’re saying, which is hacking, hacking capitalism is leveraging the system of capitalism to scale your purpose.

John Bissell: Sure.

John Bissell: Yes, right, exactly. Precisely that. Yeah.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Boom, okay. So your purpose is to elevate humanity through this technology, and our purpose is to unleash the power of culture, and we are a corporation, and if we can hack capitalism, we can unleash the power of culture by scaling through the system of capitalism, long-lived capitalism.

John Bissell: Right. Well, and I think there’s another way to think about that because sometimes people think that capitalism is the only way to do these sorts of things. But actually, capitalism is really, really effective at very specific kinds of scaling. I would make the argument, as an aside, that you guys are actually trying to scale attention. That’s the way that you drive your mission. Maybe that happens via making money, maybe not. But if you can drive attention,

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mmm, yeah.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm-hmm.

John Bissell: And you can get people to pay attention and make your knowledge legible and pass it to other people. That’s what drives it. So I think there are lots of different systems like this, but for, capitalism was originally built around what’s basically hardcore manufacturing, right? And it’s cause you’ve got to put a bunch of money in at the beginning and you take a bunch of risk and then you get to make a lot of money for a long time on the other side. That’s like, that’s the original ethos of capitalism and that’s very much what we do.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm-hmm.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Yeah. OK, so I’m very interested in the co-CEO model because it is rare. And I have a lot of experience with it, actually. I was at Oracle for 10 years, and we had co-CEOs. There was lots of pros and cons to co-CEOs. You have to be aligned. I don’t think you don’t have to be the same. You have to be aligned in the way that you operate and make decisions. So.

John Bissell: Oh yes.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: What would you say to a CEO who’s considering it as far as why they should consider it or why they should not?

John Bissell: I think, well, there’s what I understand that the literature around co-CEOs sort of outside my own experience, and then there’s my own experience. So outside of my own experience, basically the literature says if you’re in a high growth mode where there are a lot of things that have to be done, then having two CEOs can be really effective in just letting you process more information and more work. We’ve definitely found that to be true. So I think…

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm-hmm.

John Bissell: We can run basically a flatter organization that processes more information with a co-CEO model. There are pros and cons to that, right? The pros are you’re processing more information, you have more sort of bandwidth to act. The con is there’s another link, you have to sort of, you need a corpus callosum between the two co-CEOs that enable you to pass information back and forth between…

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm-hmm

John Bissell: And there’s more potential for misunderstanding or misinterpretation of the data that’s being, or the information that’s being processed through the organization. So more opportunities for misalignment. We found that the way to minimize that is by building enormous amounts of trust. Trust is really about predictability. And so we spend a lot of time together in the beginning, making sure we were thinking about things the same way.

It wasn’t necessarily transactional stuff. It wasn’t, here’s my list of things I need you to do. Here’s the list of things that you’re passing over to me. It was a lot about, well, what’s your mental model about this? How do you approach this? How are you thinking about this particular problem? I want to be able to predict, kind of like your question earlier, I want to be able to predict your answer to a question at the same time that I’m answering the question so that I can either represent both of us or I know when we might be getting a little bit off. And I think that’s worked out really well.

I’d say if I were giving specific advice, the most important thing is to build trust with your co-CEO first. There’s a tendency to wanna say, look, I’ve got long-term reports or, you know, there are all sorts of relationships inside of an organization. And as a CEO, you’re gonna have more of those even than the average person inside of a company. Your co-CEO has to be your first, your primary relationship. Never break that trust.

As soon as that gets broken, then the whole model breaks apart. It stops working.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Hmm. Do you have functional outlined responsibilities?

John Bissell: Yeah, so we divide it sort of like, I kind of think of businesses as supply, demand, and capital are the three different components that go in, which you have to sort of generalize each one of those things to make that make sense. But I tend to take the supply side, he takes the demand side, and then we sort of share the capital side or CFO takes the capital side. And so what that means for us is I take engineering, R&D, product development, manufacturing, capital projects, and he takes sales, marketing,

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm-hmm.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm.

John Bissell: Used to take investor relations principally now our CFO does that more. He takes government affairs, HR, finance roles up to him nominally, right? So you can sort of see the way that we’ve divided the functions that way.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Okay, so I’ve been watching you for a long time. I mean, I’ve known you for years. I’ve seen your business from the outside. You’re a big, you have a big, what’s the right word? I wanna be thoughtful here.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: It’s leaving me, I’m pulling a neck art totally where I’m just quiet until it comes to me.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: This isn’t the word that I wanted to find, but we need to move on. So presence, you have a large impact, let’s say, on the local community here in Sacramento. But what you do is so far beyond Sacramento, obviously. I know a little bit more about your business than maybe the average person in this town that sees you from the outside in, because you once invited me in. I got to work with your top performers, and you had these people that were so super smart, and you identified them as top.

You wanted to invest in them. They were in this longer term program, you know, a simple, you know, not necessarily innovative, but very important top talent leadership development program for your people internally. How has things changed? Tell me what the company was like then and how things have changed over the last 10 years.

John Bissell: Yeah, so I think our focus on people is similar. We still are very, very focused on the quality of the people that we bring in, which is a really easy thing to say, but our bar is extremely high. So, we recruit talent, frankly, from all over the world, and frequently they’re among the best in the world in their discipline. And by best, I mean like, top 10.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm.

John Bissell: Frequently people come and it’ll be, a senior technology executive at a major chemical company or oil and gas company. And they come and they say, origin is filled with the best technical people I’ve ever worked with, which is a big deal when you come from a company that has a hundred thousand employees, right?

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: I feel like a lot of CEOs say that and it’s actually true for you. So how do you do that? Because that’s the goal, right?

John Bissell: Right. So we do it a couple of different ways. One is by explicitly valuing people’s individual capability, um, which I think again, it’s something that’s, that’s easy to say and harder to do on a day to day basis. You know, somebody can walk up to me in the hallway and say, Hey, I, I really think you need to think about some part of our business in a completely different way or part of our technology in a different way. And I’ll sit down and listen to it.

If they have something interesting to say, they could be a really junior person coming straight out of grad school and people will listen. And so there’s a cost to that. We can get sidetracked pretty regularly in regular sort of day-to-day tasks. But the flip side is people know that they’re going to get listened to, which is a big deal. I think a second, and this is more enabling maybe, the how do you do that is…

We started when we were small with a really high quality group of people. And we’ve tried really hard not to let the bar drop as we’ve gone on because the most important thing, the thing we found that’s the most important thing for really, really capable people in our field is they want the number of, I’ll say low quality, but that’s probably not, that’s probably too pejorative, right? But, but, um,

Low quality, they want the number of low quality people they have to deal with on a day to day basis to be minimized. It’s not necessarily that, you know, of course, if they’re working for a hundred thousand person oil and gas company, there are more great people in a hundred thousand person oil and gas company than there are at Origin. Because even if you take the top, you know, 0.1%, that’s still, you know, many multiples of the number of people in Origin in total.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm-hmm.

John Bissell: But they may only interact with those really great people a couple of times a year because there are so many other folks that they have to deal with. At Origin, you know, we sort of jokingly call it the unicorn deterred ratio is really high. You know, people really… Ha ha ha. Um.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: You have a name for that?

John Bissell: Most of the time, I mean, you know, 80% of a person’s interactions, 90% over the course of a day, are with people who are absolutely spectacular and world-class in their field. That’s pretty awesome.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: But how? What’s the secret? How do you get the unicorns?

John Bissell: You start well, so that’s why it’s important to start with, you know, three unicorns, right? Because then the marginal unicorn propensity is quite high. The odds that the next person is going to be a unicorn is much higher than if you have three turds, right? And you get a unicorn, right on the next one. And so what you know, the most important thing we do when we’re recruiting is one.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Right.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Right.

John Bissell: People who really have, yeah, this is, people said this for years, right? A players hire A players. But so, so finding them, but that’s true, right? Within their networks, they usually know other really high quality people. So you find those people, you don’t know our best way to recruit, close a recruitment processes.

Just have them come in and spend some time with random people on the team. Walk around the office, have dinner with a couple other people on, it doesn’t really matter, right? I mean, we find you do a couple hours of FaceTime with just miscellaneous people on the team and they’ll be convinced. They’re like, I can’t see myself working anywhere else. I have to work.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Uh.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: So what happens when you find a couple turds in the mix? I mean, do you move swiftly on moving them out? Do you up level and train? What’s your philosophy on that?

John Bissell: I think we’re not as good at that, by the way, handling that side of the situation. Because most of the time, I mean, the reality is most of the time they’re not actually a turd, right? That’s why we jokingly call it that. Most of the time what it is we didn’t match them with their, they probably are actually great, and we didn’t match them properly with their, with our needs and their skills. Or we’re not supporting them the way that they need it, but we might not be good at supporting that kind of person or that skill set. So.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm. Mm-hmm.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Right.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Yeah.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm-hmm.

John Bissell: So one, I think we have humility around that and we invest a lot in people to try to, if somebody is struggling, we invest a lot in them to try to make it work. The flip side of that is we invest a lot in people who aren’t necessarily working. And I think if in an ideal world, we would figure out how to move those people on faster.

The flip side is we value people, we value skills. And so it takes us a long time to figure out or maybe come to the emotional conclusion that somebody just is not gonna work inside of Origin after all that investment. And so, I don’t know, we’re bad at that. We keep people a long time, longer than maybe we should when they’re not working. Usually we get there and we figure out how to say, look.

They’re not gonna make it. But it’s hard.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Yeah, it is hard. We’re bad at that too, I think. That’s one of our challenges. So, okay, here’s, so if you know anyone who’s figured that out, let me know and we’ll invite them to the podcast and we’ll both learn from them. So, what…

John Bissell: By the way, I think if I can just sort of one more final thought on that, I think one of the hard parts about that is if you’re really good at clipping people and moving them on, I think that’s actually a completely different company and totally different model than who we are. And that’s what’s so challenging about it is I don’t know that we could, all the things that we do well, I don’t know if we could do any of those well if we were also good

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Yeah.

John Bissell: In a traditional way, let’s call it, like a non-inventive way of moving on poor performers. That’s why I think why we struggle with it so much.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Yeah, right. It’s a trade-off that you’re choosing, right? Okay, so I wanna go back a step because when you were talking about the relationship with your co-CEO and how you manage that at the core of your success in that model has to do with getting aligned on your thinking. The way that you make decisions, the beliefs that you hold.

We’re core to forming that trust. It’s not about you’re gonna take HR, I’ll take sales and we’ll meet back here on Friday and see how things have gone, right? That’s really at an action level and you’re going beneath the action level, which is at the belief level, which is what we say culture is. It’s the beliefs that are shaped by the experiences that we have that’s ultimately gonna drive action and get a result, but it all starts from experiences. Can you tell us about some intentional experiences?

That you have created in your career to drive the right kind of beliefs in your culture. I mean, you wanna be intentional about culture and so you have created X experience to get you closer. What are some examples as a CEO that we could learn from?

John Bissell: Yeah, so there are a bunch. One is I think that we’re learning about right now, but we’re sort of two thirds of the way through the process of adopting this, let’s say, as an intentional sort of regular experience for our team, is broader strategic planning. So one of the common things with, you know,

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm.

John Bissell: Founder led businesses is that the founders tend to have, you know, me and my co-founder have a ton of contextual knowledge about the business that, and we’re really good at organically updating our information set and then making decisions quickly around that. Tons of good things about that. One of the bad things is it doesn’t necessarily bring everybody else with you. And so as we’ve gotten larger and we have all of these really good people.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm-hmm.

John Bissell: Who are very thoughtful, it behooves us, both because it aligns everybody and also because we end up with better strategies, right? Better approaches to bring more people into the strategic development process. That’s actually a little bit hard, I shouldn’t say a little bit, because every company and everybody has a different style for how they approach larger abstract problems.

And trying to get everybody in the same room, well, that’s an expensive room, and getting the most value out of that time is challenging, it’s not trivial. I think we have a team now of, you know, maybe it’s 20 people that are involved regularly in that process, and it was pretty painful in the beginning. But the process of experiencing some pain, seeing the results, seeing what wasn’t working, trying to fix it again, doing that quarter after quarter after quarter.

And I think it’s been probably 18 months now, six quarters, something like that, that we’ve been really intentionally trying to bring a broader group into that. It’s been really, really effective. We’re not all the way there yet, but you can see already that whole group, and frankly, the whole company is thinking about everything differently because of that process, right? We’re all getting shared priors. Our expectations are changing. Our beliefs are changing. We’re identifying when we have different beliefs better and why, right? We’re socializing information better. So I think that’s one where, man, I’ll tell you for probably the first three quarters, it was just pain because it’s a lot of time. It’s a lot of, you know,

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm-hmm.

John Bissell: Everybody already knows this. Oh no, everybody doesn’t already know this. Why doesn’t everybody know this? I mean, there’s all the, it’s like the five stages of grief around the fact that not everybody understood all of the contextual information before we even walked in the room. So that’s one. Another that has always stood out is, we have sort of,

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm-hmm.

John Bissell: I don’t know if this is how common this is. It feels very natural to us, but I suspect that maybe it’s not quite as common as we think it is. We’re a big like long dinners kind of company, which sounds kind of strange, but you can’t get us to stop talking shop. Just like that’s definitely part of our culture. Even if it’s peripheral, absolutely, absolutely. No question.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Nerding out is part of your culture.

John Bissell: I mean, days straight, practically. But that’s actually one of the big ways that, you know, our executives, now this tends to happen sort of in smaller groups, not a big 20 person dinner, right, but smaller groups. That’s one of the ways that people get aligned is they spend time talking shop and nerding out over specific, it could be organizational development topics, it could be technology topics, it could be market topics.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Hehehehe

John Bissell: And maybe it’s not really specifically organized to accomplish a particular action item or make a decision, but it’s, it’s that human process of understanding how to model somebody else’s mind when you need to. And that helps you understand when they need information, when do they need to be part of decision versus not, you know, how are they going to be acting when they’re sort of away from the ball? Um, all those kinds of things. Um, and so I think those are two, I mean, there are lots of others.

But those seem to be real underpinning processes for us as a company at our scale right now.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Well, I so appreciate you sharing the first example because when we start working with a client, the first thing that we do is focus on getting their culture equation, which is essentially their strategic plan, their purpose, their vision, and the key results that they’re going to achieve clear. Clarity of results drives success in results more than any other thing. If you don’t know what you’re trying to achieve as a company, you’re not gonna get there. And we want leaders to invite as many people as possible into that conversation because

The creation of the strategic plan is the change management around that plan baked into the creation of it. They’re gonna be bought in because they created it, right? And so often, McKinsey actually did a study on this, less than 5% of employees understand their organization’s strategy. So if you got less than 5% of your employees who understand the strategy, how on earth are they going to execute on it? Because strategy is typically created in a…insular little boardroom. You get all the highly paid people to Napa.

You close the conference room at the Fairmont Mission Inn and you work for two days with a consultant and a flip chart paper. And then you come out, you send an email, you create a PowerPoint slide, you put it on the internet and you say, there’s our strategy everybody, let’s go.

John Bissell: Totally.

John Bissell: And nobody understands why you made all the decisions that you made altogether. Maybe even if it is the quote unquote right strategy, everybody has natural questions about, well, how did you end up there? Because they’re a day and a half back in the meeting at best, not having processed their way to whatever the end result was, right? Yeah.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Right.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Yeah.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Exactly. And so many CEOs refuse to go there because of the experience you had in the first three quarters. Maybe they tried and they said, no, this is hard, it’s not working. We have to stop, pivot, go back to just doing it in a boardroom. But you push through that negative experience to the other side and now you’re reaping the benefit. So I wanna talk about that experience, not the strategic creation, but something not working.

Having to push through that experience of this is not working, I wanna go back and how to know when you should keep going and when you should actually pivot because you’re off track. How do you make that decision about going forward or turning back?

John Bissell: Yeah, so we actually had, this was years ago, we actually had sort of a false start on trying to do that the first time. And so what was interesting at that point was,

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm.

John Bissell: We were, we had all the same problems where you’re trying to bring people in who don’t have the context and they’re trying to learn fast enough in the meeting to be productive and contribute. But at the same time, you know, you, you just need to give sort of some baselining, it’s all the stuff, right? You’re bouncing back and forth between it. What, what do I think versus I don’t know anything, right? Everybody’s sort of managing that, that gap. And, um, what we found was people got really frustrated and felt like this was the wrong.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm-hmm.

John Bissell: It was the wrong approach that, you know, that strategy was supposed to be formulated in a boardroom by a small number of people who were gonna roll it out and then it was just supposed to be right. And so we sort of tried it, went back to trying it the old way, just the way you described. And then what forced us to, I think, go back and commit to this sort of the…the wider group being involved in, and by the way, I wanna make it clear, this isn’t like the entire companies in there because that’s not feasible, right?

But the wider grouping involved in strategic development was that we couldn’t seem to get people as aligned as we needed them to be. And it was like, it became such a major sort of, I’ll say pain point that the pain of not having people aligned, and not having better strategy was much greater than the pain of making everybody sit in a room for a day or two, something like that, right? And that was really, it almost was…

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm-hmm.

John Bissell: I’d like to say that we were just so enlightened that we knew that we had to push through it, right? But it was actually that there was more pain in the misalignment than there was in the strategy. And we had to wait for that pain to get sufficient to motivate us appropriately.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mmm.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm, that’s interesting. OK, so let’s talk about the CEO experience for a minute, because we were looking at research last year about how to navigate a recession, because everyone’s always expecting the next recession any day now. And Harvard Business Review, I mean, it’s just never, it’s always, isn’t it always about to be a recession? So the Harvard Business Review published some research on what works and what doesn’t.

John Bissell: For many years or so now.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: For companies trying to navigate a recession, they looked at 5,000 companies over the course of three different recessions. And the companies who were able to be thriving three years post recession, were the ones that did not take any drastic action through the recession, meaning they didn’t have mass layoffs, they didn’t over invest in things because they thought they saw an opportunity that otherwise wouldn’t have been there. They just kind of, you know, they leaned into equanimity. Let’s just chill.

It’s gonna be okay, the economic cycles go up and they go down and we’re just gonna keep on trucking and then they get to the other side and they’re much better positioned to grow at that point than the companies who thought, oh, we got a cost cut, let’s do massive layoffs or, oh, let’s try and take advantage and invest. So that requires ultimately the CEO to control their own fear. And so my question to you is, how do you control your own fear?

When you make decisions for the business, knowing that you have all of your employees, whom you love, I get the impression, their livelihood’s at stake, and the purpose of this company and the impact you can make on humanity is all at stake, it’s a lot of pressure. How do you manage it?

John Bissell: Yes. So I’m going to answer a question you didn’t ask first, and then I’ll answer that one. How’s that? So the first is just on the data.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Fabulous.

John Bissell: I wonder how much, yeah, I wonder how much of that is actually survivorship bias and that the firms that are out of position when the recession hits are the ones who rightly feel like they need to take action and do, but that action is usually insufficient to overcome their poor position in the market at the time.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Oh my God, you’re pushing back on the data right now? You are such a nerd. Okay, go ahead.

John Bissell: Now I’m not saying I know that that’s right, I don’t know, but I would wonder if it would be worth looking at, sort of looking at the data with that lens.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: What the?

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Okay, so I don’t know the answer because it wasn’t my research, but I will say my CEO said the exact same thing when I shared the data with him. So that’s interesting. Okay, I don’t know, keep going, answer my question now.

John Bissell: Hahaha!

John Bissell: Yeah, okay, now your question. So there’s a great, you know, one of my favorite books, in fact, I think it is almost certainly my favorite book in the world of startups is a very common one. I’m not that inventive in my book selection here, but is the hard thing about hard things. And I quote from it all the time because I think it’s just bang on all the time. And, you know, one of the fantastic ones is,

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm.

John Bissell: As a CEO, I sleep like a baby. I wake up every 30 minutes and cry. And I think that’s really I wish that were my own joke, but it’s not. But but I really do think that’s, you know, the essence of that is true, right, which is that it is really if you’re if you’re doing it right. Leader, true leadership, right. Leadership is something that’s thrown around all the time now. True leadership is holding the responsibility for others.

In your decisions. And that’s really hard if you’re doing it right. And I don’t think there’s any way around that. So for me, my experience around that is, one, not to be too paternalistic. So we have lots of really, really capable people. And if we screw up, then you know what?

They’re probably going to be just fine finding another place to go, you know, make money for their family and everything else. Right. Um, there are situations where I wouldn’t think that, right? If I were pulling everybody out to, I don’t know, Northern Saskatchewan or something like that to a site and they were, you know, buying houses there and they are absolutely locked into that particular geographic region. Okay. That’s a little different. I think that’s a different level of sort of forced commitment on the part of the employees. You know, we don’t do that. We tend to be in areas where people can find other jobs if they have to.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm.

John Bissell: Um, it doesn’t mean I don’t take it seriously. I do, but also, you know, we’re a company of grownups. People can take care of themselves. Right. So that’s.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Well, that’s, I mean, wait, I’m having a whole existential crisis right now because I actually totally agree with you on that. That’s fabulous. The pressure is fabricated to some degree.

John Bissell: Yeah.

John Bissell: Right, again, I think there’s some concept around like exactly what it is, where is it, and all those kinds of things, but you know, look, if I have a scientist that’s one of the best in the world in a particular area, they’re gonna be okay. So that’s one side. I think there’s another side on the mission side, right? Which I think is…

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Right?

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Yeah.

John Bissell: Is harder, frankly. I say it’s harder because one of the pitches that I make to my senior technical people, because they tend to understand this intuitively when I say it more so, is that…

Technology and advancements in technology that support sort of human society are not guaranteed. There are lots of situations where you can see that we got really close at a particular point, and then, you know, politics, economy, whatever else, sometimes just idiosyncratic effects like the inventor died, right? Stop it, and we pick it up again 100 years later.

And that can have really material effects. Sometimes, no big deal, right? The difference between 100 years between, you know, I don’t know, bromides being synthesized via chloralkylide process versus, you know, the old German cartel process. Doesn’t matter, right? It’s not really a big deal for human society. Yeah, sure.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Obviously so obvious this is elementary to me

John Bissell: But others do matter, right? So glass used to be synthesized via potash, which is you make by burning trees. So you take trees, you put them in a big pot, you burn them down to the ash, which they’re only a couple percent ash. You use that ash to make glass. European forests, I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed this, but European forests look different than American forests. They’re denser, they’re darker.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm.

John Bissell: And that’s because they have younger trees, because the entirety of continental Europe was denuded of trees in order to make glass up until a very specific technology was developed called the Solvay process, which makes glass a completely different way. And it doesn’t require burning trees down to their ground and all that sort of thing. If that Solvay process had been developed a hundred years or 50 years earlier, then Europe would be completely different. In fact, it probably would have had.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mmm.

John Bissell: Geopolitical impacts that are hard to predict. That’s a technology where it matters, right? So getting back to Origin, it’s possible that the collection of talent and capital, and opportunity and technology that we have at Origin right now is the only shot we’ll get in the relevant time scale to make carbon negative materials.

I’m not saying we’re the only company out there that’s doing this. I’m not saying we’re the only one with talent. There are others with all these things, but it’s possible. We’re the only one.

And if that’s true, then our chance this generation to get this right might be just us. And that’s worth a lot. It’s not saying it is just us. It’s just saying it might be.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm.

John Bissell: And so what comes to mind for me and what drives stress more than anything else is what if we squander that opportunity because we made poor decisions in various places. Don’t realize something fast enough. Don’t make a change fast enough. Don’t push hard enough. Maybe push too hard in some places. That’s really where the fear and the anxiety comes from for me.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Is it worth it?

John Bissell: You know, it’s funny, I, um…

John Bissell: I think.

John Bissell: Having children makes it harder to figure that out for two reasons. One, I really do believe that I’m trying to do my part to build a future that I want my kids to be able to live in.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Yeah.

John Bissell: On the other hand, it takes a lot of time and a lot of mind share and a lot of things that I could contribute to, um, to my son, I, uh, I instead contribute to the company in some form or fashion, right?

I like to think that even though maybe less of my bandwidth can go to him, it’s higher quality bandwidth because of the experiences that I get and the perspective I have running a company. But, you know.

John Bissell: Maybe that’s just me making myself feel a little bit better, right? It’s hard to say.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Hmm. It’s really hard to say. I thought about the, you know, Martin Luther King Jr., these leaders who had something worth dying for, and that so much of what I deal with, I mean, my life and also the people that we work with, it’s fairly trivial, you know? But what you’re talking about isn’t trivial.

So there’s a weight on your shoulders about that. It’s also a maybe, right? I mean, you said, we might be, well, we might not be. We might, we could close the doors tomorrow and someone else will do it and we will have had just as, you know, the impact would still have been there for humanity and maybe I would have spent a little bit more time with Henry. I mean, that, that weight, I mean, I, that’s what I wanna know is, is it, you know, do you contribute something more? Like, let me tell you a story.

My dad, left and went on this 12 year trip around the world on a motorcycle with a sidecar. He was a CEO and he was like, F this. Sold his house, sold everything he owns. He bought two t-shirts, a pair of shorts and one pair of pants. He had one pair of shoes and he hit the road for 12 years. Okay, it’s called the timeless ride. And the impact that he had on the world was so much more profound when he did that trip than when he was the CEO, right? He was…he shared his trip.

He was an evangelist, which is what I consider myself to be when you were talking about attention. I consider myself an evangelist of the power of culture. He was an evangelist of following your dreams, not being a victim to the systems that we believe we have to live within, right? Living life differently, taking a risk. He signed every email. Don’t forget to take a risk today.

He was an inspiring person. I know of six people who sold everything they owned, bought a motorcycle with a sidecar and hit the road because they met my dad. When he died, I got 2000 emails. And one of the emails, the one that sticks out to me was, I met your daddy was sleeping by a fence. And we talked for 20 minutes and he changed my life. So that’s super awesome. Here’s the flip side. I missed him like hell for 12 years. And he was not with my mother who he was still married to.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: And the family suffered. I mean, my sisters wouldn’t speak to him and he never recovered that relationship with him. So was it worth it? I don’t know. You don’t seem to know either, John. Ha ha.

John Bissell: No, I mean, I can’t say that the toll so far on my relationship has been quite as extreme, but there is a toll, there’s no question. And…

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Yeah, totally. Your wife is also super brilliant though, right? Is she still working? Yeah, so that.

John Bissell: Oh, yeah. She has more responsibility these days. Frankly, in some ways, if you look at it from a traditional capitalist perspective, she has more responsibility than I do. Well, so she is at Palantir and she’s one of the leaders for their North American sales team. So a huge portion of the revenue for Palantir. And in this case, you know…

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: What does she do?

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Yeah.

John Bissell: I don’t want to sort of steal Palantir’s sales pitch, but they view themselves as mission-oriented in defense of the West, effectively. And so she has a very mission-oriented view of the world as well. It’s probably why we understand each other. And yeah, that makes it hard, right, in both cases.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Yeah. Okay, so what do you struggle with the most? What is your biggest headache as co-CEO?

John Bissell: Yeah, you know, I think one of my biggest headaches is…is a little bit transient right now. I don’t know how long I’ll have to deal with it, but we have so many people, you know, we were 30 people three years ago as a company, and now we’re about 200.

And…all of these people came from different places with different experiences, right? They came from specialty chemicals, they came from oil and gas, they came from refining. Those are all kind of similar, but man, their language and the way they do stuff is all different. And it’s also not the way that Origin does it. And so one of the most challenging things that I deal with now is trying to align

Everybody that’s not even the right way to frame it Because that’s not the hard part it’s understanding when I need to dig deeper into what somebody is saying.

John Bissell: Because we’re actually speaking past each other, versus when I really do understand what they’re saying and we’re perfectly aligned. And what’s hard about that is…

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Hmm.

John Bissell: I try to speak the languages of the industries that we hire from, all the different industries we hire from. But sometimes it’s really nuanced stuff. It’s the way that they’re approaching a capital project or the management of a particular part of a capital project, they have certain implicit expectations around the way that they’ll get organizational support that are specific actually to their background and their company that they were with before.

And they haven’t had time to learn how Origin does it. And I can’t always diagnose as quickly as I would like to. Well, do they understand that or do they not? Right? It’s that sort of kind of fumbling in the dark a little bit in communication with all of the people that we’ve brought on board. That’s probably the hardest part. Because if you go too deep all the time, you don’t have enough energy and not enough time, right? So you can’t just check everything.

On the flip side, it’s also, you can’t just trust that it’s all working just the way it’s supposed to. That’s not the right answer either. So it’s quite tricky. That’s probably the hardest thing right now. I don’t know how long we’ll have to have sort of a, let’s call it stable population at origin before a lot of that gets sort of worked out. But right now that’s hard.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: So it’s interesting when CEOs reach out to us for help when they are scaling quickly and they’re in fast growth mode, the most common request is we need help keeping our culture. We need help making sure that we keep and save our culture as we grow. And I’ve recently started pushing back on that request and saying, why? Why?

Why is your culture that you had when you were 30 people the right one for now? Do you feel like there’s, is it a personal attachment? Is it a bias for style? What is that?

John Bissell: No, actually, and that’s a great point. I vehemently oppose the idea that you need to keep a particular culture. I think your definition of culture earlier, which is a shared set of beliefs that inform the way that you make decisions, I think basically, is what you said. For shared set of experiences that…

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Experience the shaping beliefs that drive actions and get results. Yeah.

John Bissell: There you go, yes. So I think that’s right. And what culture a company needs to be successful to achieve particular results, right? At any given time is probably different. And if it’s the exact same across, you know, any relevant period of time, five years, something like that, it probably just means that either you got really lucky or-you’re deceiving yourself about the culture being still the right culture to have.

So for us, as we scaled up, we were basically a research, engineering, and commercial development organization when we were 30, not much else. And then as we scaled up, we needed to develop capital projects expertise, project management expertise, market development expertise, a different kind of… we had to expand our financing capability.

We really had to expand what I would call sort of the core general administrative functions like HR and finance and accounting, right? So we had manufacturing is a huge one. Our purchasing function was totally not prepared for what we were embarking on. Every single one of those capabilities that we had to add to the organization, they inform culture.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm.

John Bissell: Right? They actually are a part of your culture is the way that you communicate with each other, right? Or that’s the expectations for how you communicate with each other. The way that a purchasing organization communicates with engineering is different than the way that it communicates with a capital project organization or an RG organization or a commercial organization. And so every time we brought in another one of those capabilities, we expected it to change the entire culture of the organization to integrate that new capability in. And so.

We had huge culture change. Now, I don’t think that means that you completely abandon every single element of the culture that you had before, but if it doesn’t change as you scale up, something’s gone horribly wrong, I think.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Yeah, well, and so for those of you keeping track at home, those communication needs and styles are experiences, which is the foundation of our definition of culture. Those experiences create beliefs, right? We need to adjust our beliefs. That’s actually part of, we’re just at the beginning of the fiscal year right now, we’re changing one of the core cultural beliefs at the foundation of who we are at Culture Partners right now, because we’re scaling, because it’s time for the next thing, right? And so we’re…

John Bissell: Yes.

John Bissell: Yes.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Pleasantly adapting to the next thing. Now, last year we did research with Stanford where we looked at the cultures that win. We looked at 243 companies, their revenue, their strategy, their culture, their everything, purpose. And the culture that won, that three X’d their growth against all other culture types was an adaptable culture. So you nailed it. The ability to adapt, which is about shifting your culture because you need new beliefs that will lead to new actions to get new results, which is growth, that is the key. I mean, it’s intuitive, I guess, at some level, but it’s also hard to get there.

John Bissell: So I think one of the, that’s really interesting. So you asked a question at the beginning of this section of the conversation where you said, you know, is it identity that ties people to the culture that they had when they were small and trying to preserve that as they get larger? I think it’s fear is the short answer. And I say that because I.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm-hmm. Back to fear, folks. Yep, it’s fear. It’s always fear.

John Bissell: Yeah, it’s rarely greed. It’s usually fear. And I think it’s, it’s very, well, you’re lying to yourself if you think you understand exactly what it is that makes something work at any given point with an organization that’s of any size at all, right? Most people that are even individual, sole proprietors can’t figure out exactly why everything’s working the way that for them that it’s working. And so I think the fear comes from, well, this works.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm-hmm.

John Bissell: If it changes, maybe it stops working. And so they freeze up, right? It’s sort of the defensive crouch, right? Posture that somebody takes as they’re about to do something scary, but, you know, writ via culture instead. That would be my take. Cause I, you know, certainly we feel that at an organizational scale sometimes when you bring in a new capability, it’s like, oh my gosh, are we losing the things that make it work, right?

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm.

John Bissell: The things that do work by incorporating this new capability.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: What’s interesting is you don’t have to be in a thriving organization to lean onto that coping mechanism, right? I mean, there are plenty of toxic culture environments that are still trying to save their culture, keep their culture, even though it’s toxic. It’s the same reason women, or maybe men too, I don’t know, I talk to more women than men, stay in toxic relationships even when they know it’s toxic, because they thought, yeah, but leaving might be worse. Leaving might be worse. I mean, ugh.

John Bissell: Oh yeah.

Oh yeah.

John Bissell: Yeah, that’s right.

No question.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Okay, so for the, for the Henrys out there who look to you and say, oh my goodness, I’m so inspired. I wanna be an entrepreneur, I wanna be an innovator. What advice do you offer to them?

John Bissell: I think…

John Bissell: I think some of the best advice is…

John Bissell: First…make sure that you confront the difficulty of doing this sort of thing. So I think too many people go in to doing something new, expecting that the idea is going to do 90% of the work, the initial idea, which of course it does very little. And I think there’s a fantastic, or I should say interesting, interview of the founder and CEO of NVIDIA recently that made

John Bissell: He was asked the same question you asked earlier, which is, is it worth it? And his, if you could go back knowing how it would turn out, is it worth it? Would you do it again? And his response was, absolutely not, right? No question, no, absolutely not, right? The sacrifices were far too large, which I think is shocking. If you’re at the beginning of your entrepreneurial journey, it’s sort of.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm-hmm

John Bissell: Beggars belief that somebody who was that successful with their company on the other side, much more so than they could ever have imagined by all of the paper metrics, would be so clear that it was not worth it, right? You sort of, the only way to resolve that is to say, well, he must be some sort of weird outlier and successful entrepreneur. And I think for people who really wanna do something new for all the right reasons, they’re probably gonna think really hard about that.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mmm.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm.

John Bissell: Kind of input or data and say, I’m going to do it anyway, because it’s just too exciting and too much fun. And that’s right. That’s the right thing to do. But I think that the people who go into it thinking it’s a quick payday or it’s a way to get notoriety or because they can have a good idea and then somebody else is going to run with it, none of that ever happens. It’s always hard. It’s always a slog. It’s way harder and way more ways than you could ever imagine.

The trade-offs are very real. But it’s very rewarding in a lot of ways too, right? That’s what makes it difficult to answer the question of is it worth it is because you get tons of value out of it and it’s really wonderful in so many ways. And also it’s incredibly difficult.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Hmm. Yeah, it’s funny. So I had my own business for many, many years, and I sold it in twenty one to culture partners. And I was so done with running a business at that point. It was not worth it to me anymore. I was looking for a way out. And yet when I got the offer and Joe and I, we connect. Joe Terry is the CEO of Culture Partners, and he and I had this. It felt like made to be kind of, we vibed instantly.

I loved his vision. He loved my vision. We clicked instantly. Everything felt right. And yet I still had this moment of, wait, do I wanna give this up? Do I want, you know, I couldn’t figure out the answer. And so I asked him because we were vibing so much. And I said, I’m afraid of giving this up, giving this to you, you know? And he said, well, you just have to decide if you wanna do it alone or if you wanna do it with us.

John Bissell: Yeah.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Like, well, that doesn’t help me decide. Ultimately, I did it. It’s the greatest. It was the greatest thing I’ve ever done. I mean, I just love having no control anymore. It’s, I mean, it’s incredible. And I knew for a long time before that, I was not made to be an entrepreneur. That’s just not my thing. I’m not a great risk taker. I like safety and security. I like leaning on other people’s strengths, you know? I mean, that’s just my thing. So are you an entrepreneur at heart?

John Bissell: Yeah

John Bissell: Hahaha.

John Bissell: Hahaha

John Bissell: Yeah.

John Bissell: Yeah, probably. I’m, I’m.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: He say it like that. Yeah.

John Bissell: I, you know, I, uh, I’ve been like this for a long time. And, um, I think, I think I’d probably be too much of a pain in the ass. Um, if I were inside of a larger organization, um, so I’m, I’m probably relegated to doing this kind of stuff, but you know, honestly, the way it looks is, um, is. I will be deeply engaged in core science and technology.

Um, I mean, probably for my whole career. And it basically looks like that career is going to be at Origin. And that’s sort of wonderful in a lot of ways. You know, one of the interesting parts about having a long project like Origin is that I get to live with all of my successes and I get to live with all of my failures and, um, that’s a pretty wonderful way to learn about yourself. Right. It’s hard to hide the things that you are not good at.

Um for 15 years where there’s a track history right um you learn you learn what you need to do better pretty unavoidably.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Yeah.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Okay, so here’s a hard question. What are you doing to make sure that Origin would be fine without you? The sustainability of the organization beyond you.

John Bissell: Yeah, I think about that a lot, actually. Not because I want to go anywhere, but because I feel like it’s responsible for me to do that. And because I pretty firmly believe that…

John Bissell: There’s all, let me say it differently. There, people can only operate effectively within a given layer of abstraction at any given time. And so if you want the organization to operate at a higher, sort of a higher capability level, a higher level of abstraction in total, then that means that I need to build wherever I am operating currently, I need to build a team that can operate there. And that forces sort of organizational development and growth.

And people sometimes call that developing your way out of your job, right? So that I can do the next job above me. And I think that’s really true. That is necessary. And it also does what you were just asking about, which is it makes it so whatever I’m doing right now, I have people who are in the process of replacing me for that function so that I can go to, I can be better at a higher level of abstraction. Or some, you know, if you want to think about it as an orthogonal layer of abstraction or something like that.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Hmm. Okay, my last question and my favorite question. What is one question that you don’t get asked in these kind of interviews that you wish you were asked more often?

John Bissell: Yeah. It’s a really good question.

John Bissell: So one, I’ll say almost none of the questions that you asked today are questions that I’ve ever been asked before. And I’ve done a lot of interviews. And so, yeah, so I’d say like 85% of them are new to me questions, which is pretty cool. I don’t get that, usually I get excited after I get one.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Hahaha.

John Bissell: You know, what I don’t get asked very often is, um…

John Bissell: Is anything in the area that actually that I find almost most interesting, which is um the historical progress of human technology and its future trajectory. And that’s actually what we spend a lot of time thinking about because we have to, right? If you’re building something that takes 15 years to build, you really need to have a timescale or a perspective on something that is pretty far out.

And so I think that’s…that category of questions is one that I never get asked about really, and I think is really important and I think that people want opinions in that area, sort of societally. Right now there’s not really much of a, if you say, well, what are we going to do about energy storage? People say batteries. Okay, but there’s like five more layers that you need to get to any sort of real answers around what’s the right answer for batteries and how should we be able to do that?

Looking at technology from that perspective. Obviously, we pay more attention to materials. So thinking about materials, I think that we really need to have a better way of talking about the materials we use at scale in society because it matters a lot.

John Bissell: This week, the new thing, at least in our industry, is a study got published around there being millions of microplastic particles in a bottle of water, which is probably true. The thing that doesn’t get discussed as much is that the vast majority of those particles are from the filter for the water. They are not from the bottle. Now, there are some from the bottle, and there are probably too many from the bottle. So I don’t think that’s not an issue. It is an issue. But the level of sophistication is

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm.

John Bissell: Of society broadly in addressing and talking about materials that matter to us a lot is pretty low. And I think we have to sort of talk about that more and figure out how to talk about that in a really good way.

John Bissell: I don’t know, I could talk about this for a long time. But I think that’s the…

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Okay, so I know I said that was the last question, but let me take it one step further because one of my favorite things to do with leaders is scenario planning 20, 25 years out into the future. And I think people out there would be shocked to hear how few CEOs are actually thinking about that. But it sounds like you are thinking about that, not because it’s interesting to you only, but also because it’s critical. How right were you 20 years ago about what today was going to look like?

John Bissell: Perfect.

John Bissell: Um, that’s a, uh, that’s interesting. We were, we were really right. About a probably 90%, but we didn’t, we didn’t bet hard enough on how right we were. So we were right about a couple of things. Um, we were right that carbon was going to matter, which by the way, in 2008, yes, there was a small cluster of human beings in Boston and

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mmm.

John Bissell: And the Bay Area that were convinced that carbon was going to be really important, the vast majority of the rest of the world didn’t give a shit. Right. So that was actually a big bet. We thought that carbon footprint was going to matter a lot for materials and chemicals, not just for energy. We were right about that. We didn’t bet hard enough on that. We were also right that platforms mattered more than individual products when it comes to our industry and materials, which is also true.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm.

John Bissell: So, I think about it, I explain it often as Legos. Like, you could sort of imagine the world of materials, like we’ve got 20 different Legos that are discrete Legos. You can build millions of different things out of those Legos, but there are only 20 different Lego pieces. We basically are bringing a new Lego piece into the world. And that’s what we think of as a platform, as a Lego piece. We were right about that. Nobody thought that was the right way to approach it at the time. Everybody thought that was…

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm-hmm.

John Bissell: That was exactly wrong that you should be focused on a single end product and then linking that as tightly as you possibly can. Problem is you’ve got no options. You have no, no maneuverability if you do that. Um, so that was another one. I think what we, um, one of the things that we got wrong was, um, we really thought that the big industrial players in our, in our industry.

Would get involved, that they would start doing serious technology development themselves because they have the resources to do it. And they historically did it. And what we didn’t appreciate then, and that was affecting the way that we approached everything, right? What we didn’t appreciate then is that a lot of those historical sort of industrial players in our space…are structurally incapable of executing 10 and 15 year technology development projects.

They just can’t do it. They go through four different leaders over the course of that one project. There’s two different business cycles. There are two cost cutting phases associated with those business cycles. Nothing makes it. Everything gets cut at some point, right? And so that, we would have done some things differently if we’d understood that. But we got a lot right.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Right. Yeah.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Yeah.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm-hmm.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: And so what are you seeing for 20 years from now and how that’s impacting your strategic decision-making now? Or do you wanna not say so that you don’t give it away to all your competitors?

John Bissell: Um.

John Bissell: No, man, I’ll tell as many people as want to listen. That’s another thing. That’s another common piece of advice for entrepreneurs, is everybody thinks that you have to hold your idea back, and nobody’s going to steal it. Now, the answer is, if you’re going to close, this is not my own development, but I’m selecting it. That’s my value add. If you’re right, nobody’s going to listen to you. You’re going to have to do an enormous amount of work to get people to listen to your.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Yeah.

John Bissell: Your concept, right? You’re gonna have to shout it from the rooftops. People will completely ignore your good idea. You gotta do a lot of work to get the idea out there. Theft of the idea is not the problem. Yeah, so I think our view is, I sometimes call it the, my nerd speak is it’s the eigenmaterial thesis, which basically is that we’re going to simplify

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Right.

John Bissell: The number of materials or reduce the number of materials that we use as a species dramatically. And we’ll go to probably two or three major materials in any given category, which is a reduction by a factor of probably five to 10 compared to now. And what that’s going to do is it’s going to allow us to improve the production technology for those that much more limited set of materials more dramatically. And that is the key to recycling.

So the problem with recycling now is there’s too much stuff. There are too many different, everything’s made out of 20 Legos, using my prior analogy. But we recycle Legos individually. You put all the blue two-point Legos in a bucket. You put all the, right? If you can make everything out of just one type of Lego, recycling is trivial. And so we’re starting to see movement in that direction. And it has a lot to do with product design as what we call sort of migration of the economics of variety into the mechanical layer.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm-hmm.

John Bissell: So you’re doing whatever you want by making the shape of the material different rather than having a different material. So we think things are going in that direction. That’s our sort of big pitch. And by doing that, we’re gonna select for things, materials also that are better for human health, right? So that don’t form microplastics in the way that is detrimental, all those kinds of things. So we have ideas around what those materials are. We’re investing behind that idea, but that’s.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm-hmm.

John Bissell: That’s our view is we’re going to go to a much smaller set of materials that humanity is going to use.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Well, I’m rooting for you. I have admired you from afar for a long time now. I so appreciate you coming here and sharing your insights and nerding out with me on culture because I learned a lot and I’m sure the listeners did too. Thank you so much, John.

John Bissell: Thank you, have a good one.


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