The California Quest

California has long been the crown jewel of America, the epicenter of American culture that spread across the world in the 20th century. Ever since the 49ers made the treacherous quest across the United States to reach the golden coast, California has had something of a golden tint to it. Hollywood has been home to the nation's greatest exporter of American culture and ideals. Silicon Valley was the incubator of 21st-century technology and the home to many of the biggest and most influential companies in the world. The Central Valley and Central Coast produce two-thirds of our nation's food. California is an incredible place.

But over the last decade, it has become saddled with problems of unparalleled magnitude, ranging from cities overrun by street encampments to raging wildfires that devastate homes and property. Despite unprecedented budget surpluses in the last 3 years resulting in billions of dollars in government spending, many of these problems have worsened. 

California has become a great paradox. It has many of the wealthiest companies and individuals in the world - and yet the highest level of functional poverty. It is home to many of the most impactful conservation organizations, yet its environment deteriorates as wildfires and drought wreak havoc. 

To end the paradox and return California to its destined place of leadership among the 50 states, we need to change the conversation about California’s problems. We need a forum where all Californians can participate in a non-partisan, honest conversation about what is working and what isn’t - and what is likely to work and what isn’t. 

Enter The California Quest, a nonpartisan newsletter that summarizes what is working and what isn’t in the quest to solve California’s most pressing problems. Each newsletter provides a brief overview of a problem and proposed solution, then briefly describes arguments for the proposed solution and arguments against it, and then concludes with my assessment of these arguments.

The Author

Hi, I'm Matt Plummer. Thanks for stopping by.

I built my career as a management consultant helping leading NGOs and philanthropists tackle some of society’s toughest challenges at a top 10 consulting firm, Bain & Company spinout - The Bridgespan Group. Our goal at Bridgespan often was to “scale what works.” Find a solution and then get it to those who need it.

When I moved to a small city in northern California (Redding), I wanted to help advance the city. My diagnosis was that the city lacked strong job opportunities, so I started a company and hired 4 people in the first 6 months. At the same time, I helped lead a coalition of nonprofits in the city. 

But as I focused on local challenges, I began to realize that much of the narrative and decision-making around the biggest challenges facing our state were controlled - or, at least, influenced - by our political leaders. As a result, I jumped into the world of politics, playing leadership roles in 3 statewide campaigns, a statewide ballot measure, and a local race. 

This foray into the world of political campaigns taught me a lot about the challenges facing our state, and also made me realize that I - and many of our leaders, candidates, and voters - know very little about California’s problems and the potential solutions. Too much of our conversation today is hyped-up political slander, one-sided confirmation bias-inducing commentary, or surface-level talking points.

My company (Zarvana) teaches people at companies around the world how to grow their critical thinking skills based on our framework published in Harvard Business Review. Critical thinking requires that we look at issues from both sides, that we evaluate the pros and cons honestly, and that we have rigorous and respectful debates. That is how we get to the best solutions.

I have created The California Quest as a space for Californians to work together to generate solutions to our big challenges. California is too special to allow its problems to overcome its incredible natural assets and its innovative, adventurous, resilient people.

Together, we will fulfill the California Quest and find solutions to our toughest challenges.

Subscribe to The California Quest

Nonpartisan newsletter summarizing what is and isn't working to address California's most pressing challenges


Campaign manager for 5 California political campaigns in the last 2 years and corporate trainer in critical thinking with publications in Harvard Business Review, Inc, and Stanford Social Innovation Review.