Bad Apples, Good Grafts

Apple trees aren’t grown from seeds.

If you plant an apple seed, you won’t get the same type of apple you planted. Instead, you’ll get a random variety of apple, a “crab apple” tree. The odds that the resulting apples will even taste good are one in thousands.

In fact, apple breeders will germinate thousands of trees from controlled crosses, and still only end up with one or two sellable varieties. This is where the phrase “a good apple” comes from.

Apple trees are made from grafts. A farmer takes a cutting from an existing tree, and he grafts it onto a generic root stock.

This means that for any apple variety you buy in a grocery store, every apple and every tree comes from a direct graft of the original. All Gala apples in the world come from just one tree.

Knowledge works in a similar way.

While we can learn a lot from personal experience, it is not usually sufficient to make us experts in our field. For that, we need to graft knowledge from those who have already discovered it. A very small minority of us will have breakthroughs, but these will later be grafted by others so that they too can share the knowledge.

It’s a double edged sword. If we never stray from the norm, we’ll never make anything new. But if we’re always making new apples, we’ll never send any to market.

Originality, innovation, genius – those things are hard to find. In the mean time, we graft.