I’ve lived in Southern California for 38 years, always within 10 miles of the Pacific Ocean.

For as long as I’ve lived here we’ve talked about drought. Some years more so than others though never with the severity we are talking about it now. When you live in a desert that buts up against an ocean, and then you pack that desert with tens of millions of people, drought is always in the conversation. It’s part of what makes up the “Sunshine Tax,” those cost-of-living realities that come with the territory.

But about that ocean. It’s a strange thing to see that much water and to know how life-sustaining it is, just that it’s there to sustain a very different kind of life. It sits out there both beckoning and teasing, extraordinary and unusable. Some very smart people have spent a great deal of time and money to change that, to make that massive reservoir both usable and accessible through desalination. A new, billion dollar facility for just that purpose is opening up near here in the coming months.

I’m no expert on water, fresh or salt, and I don’t claim to understand the real challenges and possibilities of alternatives like desalination. What I do know something about is the difficulty of change and the ways we are willing to do anything and everything but the real work that needs to happen. It seems to me that the ocean is a false promise for this particular challenge.  Yet, because of its omnipresence and sort of “No duh” obviousness we will throw more and more time and money at that solution. The ocean, in its sheer magnitude, provides a perfect diversion from the real issues, the truths of just how hard it is to change human behavior.

What we need in times of drought – droughts of water, innovation, creativity, engagement, involvement, participation, aliveness – is a willingness to ask the next set of questions, the harder questions, in a way that moves us toward more courageous, shared responses. Who, through both example and their commitment, will challenge us to be bigger and more resilient, pushing us and supporting us as we confront ourselves in new ways?

Who will finally ask, tired of looking to the sky for rain or to the ocean for answers: “How must I change before asking others to change?”

DAVID BERRY is the founder of RULE13 Learning. He writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world, especially the parts where he doesn’t handle it very well. If you enjoyed this post someone else might, too. Please pass it along.

Published On: April 17th, 2015 / Categories: change, leadership, learning /

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