The Wanderer and the Seeds

This story is not directly about product management or strategy. It doesn’t end with an unpacking of a metaphor or propose any applications to business. If you’re expecting this story to end with an explicit takeaway you will be disappointed. This is just a story, for its own sake, about a wanderer and some seeds.

Apple Tree I, 1912 by Gustav Klimt

Once upon a time, there was an apple farmer. He had a moderately successful orchard that the community loved, and two sons, Cornelius and Johnny. Cornelius had an eye for business, a savvy sense of marketing, and an industrious drive. Johnny was a kind soul, but he was more itinerant and creative, and he struggled to focus. Cornelius connected with his father over the running of the business, something they both valued. As the father grew older, he became more eccentric, and over time handed on more and more of the day-to-day management responsibilities to Cornelius. The father spent more and more of his time exploring and wandering. Johnny would accompany him on some of his adventures, and they became closer than before.

One day after the father had been gone for many months, the two brothers received a package. Inside was a letter that Johnny read aloud.

“It’s from Aunt Sarah. ‘I regret to inform you that your beloved father has passed.’”

They both paused as the news hit them. Tears welled in their eyes. After a moment, Johnny continued reading.

“He has bequeathed upon you both the family orchard.”

The tears in Cornelius’s eyes twinkled with possibility. The orchard was barely breaking even, but he knew that with some elbow grease and fresh thinking he could make it into a thriving business.

“Wait, there’s something else.” Johnny continued reading from the letter: “He also wanted you both to have something special. In his travels, he came across a particular apple tree that produced transcendent fruit unlike anything the world has ever seen. He wants you to have some of the seeds. The tree is finicky and requires precise conditions in order to grow…”

Cornelius looked inside the package and found two mason jars filled with thousands of seeds each. The gears were turning in his head, thinking through the possibilities. Johnny had trailed off.

Cornelius looked back at his brother. “… And? What are those precise conditions?”

Johnny turned the paper over in his hand to find a blank page. “There’s nothing else. It doesn’t say.”

“Hmmm, that’s frustrating.” Cornelius thought for a moment. “No matter, I’m sure I’ll figure it out.”

The next day Cornelius got to work in the orchard. Before he did anything else he planted a few of the magic apple seeds randomly across the property. Then he posted a job listing in the village for additional laborers. He started the back-breaking labor of clearing shrubs and underbrush to get the orchards pristine.

Cornelius was a natural businessman. With a few more workers, he was able to enact industrious new changes. He rehabilitated an old barn on the property into a apple market and got some rustic knick knacks to sell. Business picked up. Cornelius drew up timetables and structure for the various tracks of work and assigned it to the burgeoning set of employees. Johnny helped out, but his heart just wasn’t in it. None of the magic seeds sprouted but Cornelius didn’t notice because the business was going well and there was a lot for him to do.

One day Cornelius pulled Johnny aside. “I want to give you more responsibility, Johnny, but I just can’t right now… it’s clear that you’re distracted. You do the tasks I assign to you, but you never go above and beyond. You aren’t being a go-getter.”

“I’m sorry Cornelius, I want to be better, but I just can’t get myself excited about the work. Ever since father died I feel adrift, like I’ve lost myself and don’t know where I’m going.”

“Johnny, you’ve always been too much of a dreamer. I miss dad too, but the way I honor him is by investing in the orchard he loved. If you applied yourself you’d be more successful.”

“I know, I know. I just don’t know how to get motivated. Maybe I should take some time away to find myself.”

“Maybe that would be best. But keep in touch — once you’ve sorted yourself out I want you to come back and help me run this business.”

Johnny packed a rucksack. He brought a small tent, a change of clothes, a few days of food, and his father’s jar of apple seeds, but nothing else. He didn’t know where he was going, so he wanted to live as frugally and simply as possible. Cornelius was already working on directing a project to clear a new field and barely noticed when Johnny set off.

Johnny wandered along the road for many days, lost in his thoughts and appreciating being alone in nature. A few days later he was running out of food. He passed by a cute cottage with a slightly overgrown garden. An old woman was bent over, pulling on a weed that just wouldn’t come up.

“Ma’am, do you need any help with that?”

She turned around, surprised someone was there. “That’s kind of you to offer. My husband used to tend this garden. It gave us both so much joy, but ever since he passed it has started to get overgrown. I’m afraid I don’t have the strength to tend it any more.”

“My father recently passed, too. I sometimes feel like my life has gotten overgrown.” He thought for a moment, then said, “I can help tend the garden today. I’m by no means an expert but I do know a few things about gardens and should be able to clean up a few weeds.”

“That would be wonderful — but I’m afraid I don’t have any money to pay you.”

“That’s fine. All I ask is that you allow me to sit at your table tonight for a home-cooked dinner, and a place to pitch my tent for the night.”

“Well that I can give you. Are you sure there’s nothing else?”

He thought for a moment. “There is one more thing — over dinner I’d like for you to swap stories with me. I want to share stories about my father and hear stories about your husband.”

“That I can do, although I’m afraid they won’t be particularly useful or interesting stories.”

“That’s fine. I think sometimes it’s good to tell stories just for their own sake.” He paused as a thought occurred to him. “And every so often, in the fullness of time, some of those stories might bloom into something far larger.”

She nodded, and reached out her hand to shake his. “I’m Sarah, by the way.”

“And I’m Johnny. Nice to make your acquaintance.”

He got to work. He had been modest — he was a quite gifted gardener when he was motivated. He got into a kind of flow state and ended up going far beyond just weeding. When Sarah came out later in the day to bring him a glass of water she gasped.

“Johnny, I don’t know what to say! You’ve transformed this garden! It’s beautiful! It hasn’t looked this good since my husband passed.”

“It’s been my pleasure, ma’am.”

Sarah made a delicious dinner. It was simple, and she was working with meager ingredients. But after a few days of eating out of his rucksack, it hit the spot for Johnny. They talked for hours over dinner, swapping stories about their loved ones, tears in their eyes from laughter. Johnny told stories of his eccentric but beloved father and some of their escapades, including the odd nature of his gift of apple seeds. He didn’t include the part about how they were supposedly magic — he thought she might think that was just a bit too out there so he kept it to himself. At the end of one of her stories about her husband, Sarah went quiet.

“You must miss him terribly,” Johnny said after a pause.

“I do. But just remembering him tonight has brought me so much joy. There’s something I want to show you.”

She brought him out into the garden and gestured at a beautiful flowering tree in the corner. “My husband and I planted this forty years ago. Over time it has grown big and strong. I come out to this tree every day and I feel connected to my husband.”

They both contemplated the tree in silence. She turned to Johnny.

“You have made me feel such joy today, Johnny. I feel more connected to my husband than any time since his passing.” A quiet moment passed. “I have an idea. Why don’t we plant one of your apple seeds here in the garden?”

“That’s a lovely idea. I would be honored. But I’m afraid that the tree almost certainly won’t grow, these seeds seem to be very finicky.”

“That’s fine. I find the ritual of planting is worth it for its own sake. A moment of remembrance and contemplation, an opportunity to think about the possibility of what might grow.”

He nodded silently. They prepared a space in the garden and planted the seed. She reached out and clasped his hand. They stood in contemplative silence, a feeling of peace, remembrance, and warmth enveloping them. A tear rolled down Johnny’s cheek. He felt connected to his father in a way he hadn’t since he had passed.

The next morning, Johnny woke up bright and early. Sarah saw him packing up his tent and went out to him.

“I don’t suppose I could convince you to stay for just a little bit longer?”

“Thank you, I’m honored. But I still need to explore. I still need to find myself. But I’ll never forget you.”

“Nor will I forget you. I have a few friends in the surrounding villages who I’m sure could use your help, if you happen to be heading their way.”

She described a few of the friends, what they needed help with and where they were located.

“They all sound like lovely people. I’ve been meaning to head out to the west, towards the plains. I’ve never seen them before. If it’s OK with you I’d like to help those friends.”

“That sounds lovely. Here, let me give you a letter of recommendation for you to give to them.”

She wrote a letter, and reached out to hand it to him. She held his hand as she placed the letter in it, looked him in the eyes, and said, firmly, “Thank you.”

He turned and headed out on his way.

Back at the orchard, the new field had already started growing pumpkins. Cornelius had the idea to have a band come and play every Sunday, selling apple cider (normal for the kids, spiked for the adults) and apple cider donuts. It was a smashing success, and the audience continued growing.

Johnny arrived at Sarah’s friend’s house and knocked on the door. A woman answered, carrying a screaming child and looking a bit harried. She looked at him suspiciously. “Can I help you?”

“Sorry to bother you, ma’am. I helped out Sarah a couple of days ago and she recommended that you might have some odd jobs I could help out with. I’m just a humble laborer, but I can promise you a day of hard work. Here, she wrote you a letter.”

He handed the letter to the woman, and as she read it she relaxed.

“Well I normally don’t accept offers of help from strange men off the street, but Sarah seems very convinced. I guess there are a few jobs in the garden I could use your help with. Although I’m afraid I don’t have much to pay you.”

“That’s okay, ma’am. All I ask is to share your table tonight over a home-cooked meal and to swap stories. And a place to pitch my tent, just for the night.”

“That I can do.”

Johnny set to work. Again he got swept away and went above and beyond what he had promised, transforming the garden. He also saw a leaky garden faucet and fixed it, too. The woman was overwhelmed with gratitude.

At dinner Johnny and the family swapped stories, remembering their loved ones, and also sharing a few tricks of the trade about gardening and plumbing they had picked up. He told the story about planting the apple seed with Sarah and tears welled in the family’s eyes.

“We’d be honored if you’d plant a seed in our garden, too.”

They headed out to the garden and as a group solemnly prepared a space for the seed. They planted it and in a moment of silent remembrance stood and contemplated those they loved and had lost.

The next morning Johnny said that he must be on his way. The family suggested a few of their friends who could benefit from his work too. One of the families was out in the plains and needed help gardening. Another was back the way he had come, but the father was a carpenter who needed a bit of help finishing up a table.

“The carpentry family sound perfect. That’s not the direction I wanted to go, but I’ve always wanted to learn a bit more about carpentry, so I’ll go there.”

The woman wrote him a letter of recommendation and sent him on his way.

Back at the orchard, Cornelius continued coming up with ideas to improve the business. His staff had swelled and the profits kept on increasing as they increased their scale and scope. Every employee felt pride in the high standards of the orchard and worked as hard as they could. Halloween was coming up, and he had the idea to create a hedge maze and have halloween themed decorations as a special festival. He charged $5 a pop as an entrance fee and increased the orchard’s profits significantly. The orchard was becoming an attraction that drew people from far and wide.

Over many months Johnny went to dozens of households to help out. At each he humbly offered his meager services, and then amazed them with the quality and care he brought to the work. At each he swapped stories and tricks of the trade over a home-cooked meal, sharing the stories and ideas from his travels that had most resonated with him. Planting a seed at each home became a ritual that he looked forward to, a moment of contemplation and remembrance that made him feel connected to his father, his hosts, and to the earth. Every time after he helped a family he asked them for recommendations of other families he might help. He’d pick the job that sounded the most unlike the ones he had done before— a new location, a new type of job, a family with different experiences and history than he’d met before. He slowly accumulated skills in just about every specialty, learning tricks of the trade that gave him the confidence to tackle any type of work. He didn’t form a deep connection with all of the families, but he did with most, and those that did invariably suggested that he plant an apple seed in their garden. He no longer felt lost. Instead he looked forward to the wandering for its own sake.

A year or so passed, and Johnny’s wandering took him back in the direction of his family’s orchard. He barely recognized the place — it was thriving, with a large staff. There were marketing specialists, gardening specialists, day laborers, entertainers, a whole army of people. He found Cornelius, who was busy running around giving directions to the staff. When he saw Johnny he stopped what he was doing and pulled him in for a big hug.

“I’ve missed you, Johnny! You look well!”

“I feel great! I’ve had the most interesting experiences. But you seem like you’re doing well, too.”

“I am. This business is thriving. I think father would be proud.”

“I know he would.”

They had lunch, and a few of Cornelius’s leads joined them. Laura, one of the business leads, listened with rapt attention, but Andrew from accounting seemed harried and distracted. Johnny told stories from the road, and about the almost-nightly ritual of planting one of their fathers’ seeds.

Cornelius laughed. “I had completely forgotten about those seeds. I’ve been so busy running the orchard I just didn’t have time to think about them. Have any of them sprouted?”

“Not that I know of. But the ritual of planting the seed each day is an end in and of itself. It grounds me.”

Laura saw Cornelius’s own mason jar of seeds on a shelf behind a few books.

“Are those some of the magic seeds?” she asked. Cornelius nodded. She continued, “I wonder, if they really do create transcendent fruit, shouldn’t we try to grow them? We’ve accumulated a lot of experts here. Surely if we put our heads together we could figure out what conditions they need to grow, and they could transform the business!”

Cornelius didn’t hesitate. “That’s a great idea — if it works it could create tons of profit, and I’m sure nothing would make father more proud! Laura, why don’t you run this program. Pull together the experts and come up with a plan of where to plant them that we think will be most likely to grow. Then come back to me and we can review the plan and get to planting.” He turned to Johnny. “It’s been so great to see you. Can I convince you to come back to the orchard and help out? It seems like you’ve learned some valuable skills. And I’d hate to think that you still feel lost.”

“Thanks, but not all who wander are lost. It’s a simple life, but it’s an honest one and it’s something that I derive meaning from. Maybe one day I’ll settle down… but not yet.”

“I can respect that, but I won’t say I understand it. The business is thriving, and you should be a part of it. Once you’re ready to join the real world, let me know.”

They gave each other a big hug and parted ways. As Johnny walked off, Andrew leaned to Laura and said, “I don’t know, all of that wandering seems a bit self-indulgent to me…”

Johnny was close to Sarah’s house, so on a whim he stopped in. She was overjoyed to see him and welcomed him like a long-lost friend. They reminisced over tea and he shared the stories of his new adventures.

Meanwhile, Laura convened a group of experts at the orchard, calling it the “Committee for Magic Seeds”.

In the first meeting, Andrew, who still seemed stressed from overwork, cleared his throat and said, “I don’t know if I see the point of this.” He looked around the room at the others. “I think these seeds are likely sterile and just won’t grow. I have a million other tasks I could be doing that are guaranteed to work. Maybe you aren’t busy enough if you have time for these fanciful ideas.”

Laura was able to maintain order, but the momentum of the group was gone. She assigned a few committee members to write up proposals to consider in their next meeting.

The scheduled time for the next meeting came but everyone had been too busy with other more pressing tasks so no one had anything to propose. They cancelled the meeting and everyone got an hour back to tackle their other priorities. Many weeks passed by with the meeting getting cancelled, and after awhile they just stopped even bothering to keep it on the calendar.

One day Johnny was traveling from one household to another, walking along the railroad tracks. He saw a small lean-to cobbled together out of scrap metal. Next to it was an old rusted coffee tin with a few blossoms of various types growing out of it. A woman in threadbare clothes was in front of the shelter, sweeping the ground in front to clear away leaves.

“That’s a beautiful garden you have,” Johnny said.

She looked up, craning around to see if he was talking to someone else. Finally it dawned on her that he was talking to her. “Thank you, that’s very kind. It’s not an impressive garden.”

“I disagree! You have clearly tended to it with love and care, and it shows. I’m looking to do odd jobs — is there anything you need help with?”

“You… you can’t be serious. I’m barely getting by myself at the moment. I have nothing to offer you.”

“Nonsense. All I ask is that we share a home-cooked meal and you give me a place to pitch a tent for the night.”

“Well, if you’re sure… I could use some help extending the roof so I don’t have to stoop over inside. It’s a two person job.”

Johnny reached out his hand, offering it to her to shake. “I’m Johnny, by the way.”

She looked at his hand as though he was crazy. It was clear she hadn’t shaken anyone’s hand in years. After a moment, though, she relented and took his hand in hers and gave it a good shake. “And I’m Julia. Nice to make your acquaintance.”

They worked together to extend the lean-to into a proper little building. Johnny used a trick he had picked up from the carpentry family to make hand-hewn rafters that were surprisingly sturdy. After they were done they went down to the river to catch some fish for dinner.

Over dinner they swapped stories. Julia described how she’d fallen on hard times, and how people who she used to call friends pretended to not know her anymore. She described how she was too embarrassed to press the issue and just hurried past them when she saw them. Johnny told her about his father and some of the adventures he’d had. He told her about how sometimes he would plant one of his apple seeds with his hosts. He left out the part about them being magic, as he always did. Julia said she’d be honored to plant a seed with him.

After the meal, Julia asked Johnny for the leftover fish bones and scales from his plate. She scraped them into her coffee tin garden.

“Why are you doing that?” Johnny asked.

“Oh, it’s a trick I picked up. The soil here is poor, but one day I noticed that a beautiful wildflower was growing out of the spot where I had scraped my fish bones. I guess the bones and scales must make good fertilizer? I don’t know why it works but it turns out it allows things to grow in even the most barren soils.”

They did the seed planting. Johnny had done it so many times that it had developed into its own ritual that felt almost sacred. When he was done Julia kept silent for many minutes, lost in deep contemplation. After some time had passed she took some of the remaining fish bones from dinner and put them, carefully, on top of the soil where the seed had been planted. “Maybe this will be the trick that makes the tree grow,” Julia said. Johnny felt a seed of excitement grow in him, but didn’t hold on it too tightly because he didn’t want to be disappointed.

Meanwhile back at the family orchard Cornelius asked for an update from Laura on the magic seed project. She explained that she’d had a hard time getting others to take it seriously and the project had lapsed. She apologized, took the blame for the lack of progress, and committed to having a proposal to share with him in a week.

She re-convened the committee — sans Andrew — and told them that Cornelius has ordered an update in a week. They debated what to put in the proposal. One gardener thought that planting the seeds in the north field was most likely to work, because the soil was fresh and the sunlight was good. Another expert thought the south field would be better because of the morning dew and shade. They couldn’t agree on which was the better option, so they put both in the proposal.

Cornelius was busy the day of the presentation and considered postponing it, but Laura insisted they meet. The two sides walked through their competing proposals.

Cornelius thought about how to resolve the disagreement. “It seems to me that if we agreed on the value of the soil versus the morning dew we’d be able to make a decision. As a next step, please get more data. Plant a few of the seeds in pots in the green house, one in rich soil, and one in soil we keep damp. Make sure to carefully control the conditions so we can definitively tell the importance of the two factors. In a month, come back to share your findings and then we can decide which field to plant the magic seeds in.”

Everyone was very impressed with Cornelius’ insight: he had seen right to the heart of the issue and proposed an objective solution to resolving the dispute. Cornelius felt proud to be so useful to his organization. The next order of business was a proposal from Andrew.

“I realized,” Andrew explained, “that if we cut back on the halloween decorations a bit this year, we could save thousands of dollars in costs. And surveys show that customers won’t mind because they mostly come for the hedge maze anyway.”

“Great idea, and great initiative,” Cornelius said. “We’ll enact that plan at once.”

Johnny continued his travels. A month or so later he found himself back at the railroad tracks and saw Julia. She excitedly invited him into her sturdy house— he no longer had to stoop to stand in what now felt like a tiny home. They shared stories of their recent adventures.

Johnny asked, tentatively, “I haven’t allowed myself to hope… but by any chance did the tree grow?”

She shook her head quietly. A moment passed. “But I wanted to tell you something. I was so inspired by the respect you showed me that day that I decided to not be so embarrassed. I got myself a job in the town. It’s not much, but when I pass by my former friends I now hold my head up high. Thank you. You showing me respect made me realize that I needed to respect myself.”

Johnny swelled with pride, and quickly forgot about the brief moment of disappointment about the tree.

Meanwhile back at the family orchard the results of the experiment had come back. Neither condition had led to any of the seeds growing. In the review meeting they came up with a few more conditions to test and decided to run another experiment. Immediately after the meeting a situation arose — a customer was angry that the Halloween extravaganza had not been as impressive as advertised, and had demanded his money back or he would tell all of his friends the orchard was a scam. In the aftermath Andrew had offered his resignation in disgrace. In the confusion, Laura lost track of her task, and neglected to schedule a follow-up committee meeting.

As Johnny continued wandering from family to family, his travels ultimately took him up a mountain to a family with an orchard. The sign at the entrance to the farm read “The Jensen Family Orchard” and looked like it had been there for a hundred years. The mountain was covered in a dense fog, cold but peaceful. Despite what Johnny had expected, the plum trees seemed to be thriving in the fog.

As he always did, he promised the Jensens only humble labor, but then amazed them with what he was able to do — his skills had grown considerably in his years of odd jobs. Over dinner, Mrs Jensen complained that the plants in her vegetable garden weren’t growing. Johnny shared the fish fertilizer trick he had picked up from Julia, and Mrs. Jensen said she’d give it a try. As they swapped stories, they shared the history of the Jensen orchard that went back for multiple generations — how their great-great-grandparents had serendipitously discovered that their rocky, foggy mountain was an ideal location for an orchard and how they had kept the tradition alive since then. The pride the family felt was palpable. Johnny told them how he had a sacred ritual of planting some of his fathers’ seeds and Mrs. Jensen said she would be honored if he’d plant one in their garden.

The now familiar planting ritual still managed to feel special and unique each time. As he stooped down to pile the soil on top of the seed the Jensens watched with reverent silence. He could feel the family’s multi-generational history surrounding him as he thought with fondness of his father.

The next morning Mrs. Jensen went out to spread fish fertilizer in her vegetable garden. She recommended a few of their friends for Johnny to continue on to, and then gave him a letter of recommendation to the one he chose.

A week after Johnny left, Mrs. Jensen’s vegetable garden was thriving thanks to the fish bones. She looked over where the apple seed was planted and saw that nothing had grown. On a whim she put some fish bones above the apple seed, too.

A week later she went out in the garden and saw that a small sprout had grown from the apple seed. It gave her joy to think that the tree would grow into a monument to their family, and be a way to remember that delightful stranger named Johnny.

As time went on, back at the family orchard Laura would sometimes see the mason jar of seeds in Cornelius’s office and think about the lapsed committee with a tinge of embarrassment. But it was never a good time — there was always something more pressing going on with the main business — and so she left both the mason jar and the idea undisturbed, collecting dust.

A few years later the Jensen’s tree had grown into a sapling large enough to bear fruit. One day while working in the garden Mrs. Jensen noted that one of the apples was ripe. She picked it and took a bite. The fruit was so transcendently delicious that she lost herself for a moment. She felt a deep and joyous connection to her family and to the orchard.

She ran to find her husband and thrust the apple into his hands. “You’ve got to try this!”

Mr. Jensen took a bite and had the same response she had. He thought for a few minutes in the afterglow of the delicious apple. “We’ve got to sell this! We could make a killing!”

She thought, but just for a moment. “No, that wouldn’t be right. These aren’t ours, these are from Johnny, we must share them with him.”

“I agree. But how will we reach him? It’s been years since he left and he didn’t leave any address.”

She thought for a moment. “Well we know that when he left he headed to the Albertson’s. I’ll send them a letter, and ask them to forward it on to the next family he went to, and so on, until it reaches him.”

She sent the letter to the Albertson’s. It was a shot in the dark, but they too had been so moved by their experience with Johnny that they agreed to forward the letter on to the family that they had sent him to. And so it went, along the chain of families, with each instantly remembering Johnny and delighted to help out by forwarding the letter.

Many weeks later, while he was working in a family’s barn, the head of the household came up to Johnny and gave him the letter. Johnny was shocked — how would someone know to find him there? He opened the letter. It said that he was to return to the Jensen’s mountain orchard immediately because they had good news to share.

Johnny finished up with that family but the next morning headed straight for the Jensen’s mountain. When he got there, months had passed since they had sent for him. In the garden where he had planted that seed so many years ago he saw a majestic tree with apples that were so perfect they almost looked like they were glowing.

The Jensens came out to greet him and gave him a hug. A tear rolled down his cheek as he contemplated the beauty of the tree and what it represented.

“Wait until you taste one,” Mrs. Jensen said.

He went and plucked an apple. It felt almost warm in his hand, like it was so complete and whole that it was emanating energy. He took a bite and instantly felt like he had been transported to another realm. He broke down and wept with overwhelming joy. He felt like he’d transcended from his own body, and felt a deep and all-encompassing connection: to his father, to all of the people he had met along the way, to the earth.

After a few minutes had passed he spoke. “I… I don’t understand. I’ve planted hundreds of these seeds, but they’ve never grown.”

“I’ve thought about that,” Mrs. Jensen said. “I think what it took was not just that fish fertilizer trick, but also a foggy mountainous growing location. The combination of those two things created the perfect conditions for it to thrive.”

He nodded solemnly.

“Johnny,” she said with a serious tone, “with this apple you will change the world.”

He considered what she had said. “No, with this apple we will change the world.”

Johnny sent news back to Cornelius, who arrived the next day. When he saw the trees and tasted the fruit he fell to his knees and wept. Johnny kneeled and pulled his brother into a hug. They had never felt closer to one another.

“Johnny… It’s so beautiful.”

Johnny nodded. “I’m going to need your help, Cornelius.”

“Of course, Johnny. Of course.”

A tear rolled down Johnny’s cheek.

“Cornelius, I think father would be proud.”

Cornelius turned to look Johnny in the eyes, and said, firmly, “I know he would.”

They pulled each other closer, and in that moment it felt as if the whole world was joining in the embrace.

They formed a partnership with the Jensens. Together, they planted trees throughout the orchard, each time following Johnny’s sacred ritual.

Johnny trekked to the railroad tracks to look for Julia and tell her the good news. Although he found the home she had built, someone new was living in it who had no knowledge of Julia. Johnny went into the town and after a few hours ran into a woman with a face he almost recognized, dressed smartly and walking with a confident air. Julia looked at him for a moment and then rushed in to give him a hug. Johnny offered her a job at the new orchard but she declined because she had established a life she was proud of and didn’t want to uproot it. Johnny insisted that she take a share of ownership in the joint venture.

Back at the Jensen’s orchard, Cornelius became general manager. His considerable business experience helped the orchard run smoothly and over the course of multiple years of growth the orchard thrived. Cornelius wanted to charge a special price for the special apples, but Johnny insisted they charge no more than a standard apple.

People came from far and wide to try the transcendent apple. Johnny offered the seeds for a nominal price to anyone who came to the orchard. Each packet of seeds contained a slip of paper that listed the tactical growing instructions on the front side. On the reverse was Johnny’s story about wandering and his personal ritual that had become sacred for him. The orchard was overwhelmed with demand, and profits piled up.

Johnny sent a letter through the chain of people he had visited in his wandering, inviting them all to the orchard for a celebration. When they arrived, they instantly connected with one another into a kind of long-lost community, all of these strangers who had the shared experienced of serendipitously meeting this wanderer. As they all tasted the transcendent fruit together they felt a profound connection to something far bigger than themselves. At the end of the celebration Johnny announced he would be distributing a portion of the profits to all of them, and the rest to a charity tasked with spreading the seeds of the transcendent apple — and its story — far and wide.

Many years later, apple trees full of transcendent fruit grew on foggy mountaintops all over the world. Not everybody who planted the seeds did anything special. But some who heard the seed’s story were inspired to create their own ritual of shared meaning with those around them. The world had changed, all because a wanderer’s seeds had bloomed into something far larger.

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Generalist fascinated by complex adaptive systems. Product Manager by day. All opinions my own.

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Alex Komoroske

Alex Komoroske

Generalist fascinated by complex adaptive systems. Product Manager by day. All opinions my own.

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