What I learned about Professional Networking from Johnny Appleseed

July 8, 2015


Johnny Appleseed, the American historical figure who has long since passed into legend, never had a LinkedIn profile, a Twitter feed, or even a telephone. And yet, he serves as a perfect example for good networking.


A dedicated conservationist, Appleseed (whose real name was John Chapman) was responsible for planting thousands of apple trees across the States during his lifetime. It was commonly said that he planted seeds randomly during his free-spirited travels; but historical scrutiny reveals that he actually planted nurseries. He ensured they were protected from the elements, left them in the care of others, and returned every year to check on the progress. Before long, there were a lot more apples in New England—and the name Johnny Appleseed was known far and wide.


It’s the same in today’s hyper-connected world. You plant a seed along your professional path, and if you nourish it well enough, it takes root and becomes an integral part of your network. Should you expect instant results? No. Can a reputation be built on an all-night LinkedIn marathon? Certainly not. That would be like planting seeds randomly and leaving them to the elements. It was care and nourishing that helped all those seeds to become mature, strong trees.


Sting, the lead singer of the police, is no Johnny Appleseed—but he serves to illustrate my next point about professional networking. Namely that someone is always watching you in this business. Every move you make, every step you take..


People watch how you relate to professionals and clients, how you respond in group situations, and how you make tough decisions. Everything is noticed by someone. Over time, the people who notice things about you, and the way you conduct yourself in the professional space, become flourishing trees in your ever-expanding professional nursery. They offer you real connections and real fruit, the way strangers in cyberspace cannot.


Consider these lesser-known seeds of networking:


  • Behaving ethically

  • Demonstrating a strong commitment to fairness

  • Showing integrity

  • Speaking with authority and expertise


In today’s climate of instant connectivity and gratification, people often take meaningful networking for granted, as if a few clicks and keystrokes will automatically get you there. This mindset will not carry weight when it comes time for real professionals to make real decisions. The sooner you get down the business of real, meaningful networking, the sooner your efforts will turn into trees and apples.


I’ve been building my network for over 30 years, seed by seed, tree by tree. It’s still a work in progress. You may be able to attend an hotelier conference and walk away with a good list of contacts, or message a thousand professionals online, but a true network goes deeper than that. It comes from long-term, meaningful engagement within the industry. You can’t fake it, you can’t rush it, and you can’t limit yourself to obvious networking opportunities.


What happens when your network is strong and growing? The benefits are profound. A strong network of associates connects you to diverse and interesting people, who will draw on you for support, and offer you support in return.


Research conducted by Brigham Young University has recently suggested that social connections prolong the human lifespan. Businesses and professionals are exactly the same way. A business or professional with a strong network is likely to be healthier, happier and more robust in the professional world. If networking efforts are poor or non-existent, the chances of long-term survival are slim. Left to the elements and hungry animals, the trees will wither.


So remember Johnny Appleseed, the bare-footed wanderer, next time you think about professional networking. Your performance as a professional is one long journey of planting and nourishing seeds. You never know what contact, what meeting, what decision could ultimately become a tree—so take care of them all!




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