The Myth of Better Content: Surprising Lessons from “Acres of Diamonds”

Good News

  • Have you ever wondered why someone else’s content seems to be getting so much attention and yours isn’t getting any attention (at least compared to theirs)?
  • Have you ever wondered why another company’s content marketing – content marketing that isn’t any better than your company’s (in fact, yours may even be better) – is producing so much more results than yours?

Well, I don’t know your exact situation, but I can tell you one thing. There’s a good chance, that it’s not because their content is better than yours. 

So, if their content isn’t any better than your content, why is it producing such different and better results?

Are You Believing This Common Myth? 

Maybe it’s because you’ve believed this common myth: the best content in any arena always produces the best results. Seems so believable, doesn’t it? If only it was true!

But the fact is that the individuals and companies that are seeing the best results aren’t necessarily the ones who are producing the best content. (Their content might be good, but it’s not necessarily the best.)

In fact, some of people and companies who are actually producing the best content in those same arenas might be seeing less results than others who are producing content that’s nowhere near as good!

How can this be? I am here to suggest that, although great content is extremely important, it’s not all that you need to succeed with your content marketing.

Once you create the best possible content that you can, you then need to move your focus from your “what” to your “how.” I’ll explain more of what I mean in just a minute, but first you have to hear a story that reveals this truth in a powerful way.

It’s the amazing tale of a man who heard a powerful story that changed his life. And it all happened because of the way he implemented the “how“…

The Moment That Changed the Trajectory of His Life

dr. russell conwell, acres of diamonds
Dr. Russell Conwell

It was 1870 and Dr. Russell Conwell was about to experience a moment that would change his life forever.

But like many life-changing moments, he had no clue it was about to happen. He was just focused on doing his job.

You see, at this moment he was thousands of miles from home and working as a foreign correspondent for the New York Tribune.

He was on a trip to Baghdad, where they hired a guide to take them down the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The guide was an interesting old man who knew all of the ancient stories and traditions of that region.

On the first day that they traveled down the rivers, the old guide told Dr. Conwell a story that was so powerful it captured his attention and he never forgot it.

In fact, it so impacted him that Dr. Conwell would later come back and tell the story in a speech that he gave thousands of times around the country.

After learning how Dr. Conwell first heard this story and what happened afterward, I realized there are important lessons for us as content marketers.

I’ll explain what I mean in just a moment.

But first, you need to hear the story for yourself, because just the story in and of itself is a powerful one.

And if you keep reading until the end, I’ll reveal a moral from the story that Dr. Conwell, himself, overlooked! 

The Life Altering Story the Old Guide Told

Here is the story the old guide told Dr. Conwell that he reserved for “particular friends”…

There once lived a man who lived not far from the River Indus, an ancient Persian by the name of Ali Hafed.

Ali Hafed owned a very large farm. He had orchards, grain-fields, and gardens. He had money saved away at interest and he was a wealthy and contented man.

That is, he was until one day when a Buddhist priest came to visit. 

He sat down by the fire and told Hafed about diamonds that were so amazing that one diamond the size of his thumb could purchase the country.

And he told Hafed that if he could ever own a diamond mind, he could place his children upon thrones through the influence of their great wealth.

When Ali Hafed heard all about these diamonds and how much they were worth, he went to bed that night feeling like a poor man.

He hadn’t lost anything, but he felt poor because he was discontented, and discontented because he was afraid he was poor.

The more he laid awake, the more he wanted those diamonds. Early in the morning, he went and found the priest.

He woke the priest and said, “Will you tell me where I can find diamonds?”

“Diamonds! What do you want with diamonds?”

“Why, I wish to be immensely rich.”

“Well, then go along and find them. That is all you have to do; go and find them, and then you have them.”

“But I don’t know where to go.”

“Well, if you will find a river that runs through white sands, between high mountains, in those white sands you will always find diamonds.”

“I don’t believe there is any such river.”

“Oh yes, there are plenty of them. All you have to do is to go and find them, and then you have them.”

Then Ali Hafed said, “I will go.”

So he sold his farm and collected the money from the sale. He left his family to be taken care of by a neighbor and then away he went in search of diamonds.

He began his search at the Mountains of the Moon, but he had no luck there.

Later he searched in Palestine, then he wandered on into Europe, and finally, when his money was all gone and he was just in rags, he ended up in Spain.

He was feeling hopeless, because his search for diamonds produced nothing. But that wasn’t the only reason he was feeling hopeless. He was feeling hopeless because in the process of searching for the diamonds he had spent all of his wealth!

In Spain, he stood on the shore of the bay at Barcelona watching a great wave as it came rolling in between the pillars of Hercules.

He felt so hopeless that he finally could no longer resist the awful temptation to throw himself into that incoming tide.

And so he did and he sank quickly to death beneath its foaming crest of water.

Then suddenly the old guide stopped the story.

He then stopped the camel that Dr. Conwell was riding on and went back to fix the baggage that was coming off another camel.

It was during this time that Dr. Conwell thought about the story he had just heard.

He thought, “Why did he reserve that story for his ‘particular friends’? There seemed to be no beginning, no middle, no end, nothing to it!”

As he sat their pondering the strange story, the guide came back and took up the halter of the camel and then he went right back to the story again.

He picked up right where he left off, just as though there had been no break.

The old guide then told Dr. Conwell that the man who purchased Ali Hafed’s farm one day led his camel into the garden to drink.

As that camel put its nose into the shallow water of that garden brook, Ali Hafed’s successor noticed a curious flash of light from the white sands of the stream. He pulled out a black stone having an eye of light reflecting all the hues of the rainbow.

He took the pebble into the house and put it on the mantel which covers the central fires and then he forgot all about it.

A few days later the same old priest who had visted Ali Hafed came to visit the new owner of the land.

The moment Ali Hafed’s successor opened the door and the priest saw that flash of light on the mantel, he rushed up to it and shouted, “Here is a diamond! Has Ali Hafed returned?”

But the new owner of the property replied, “Oh no, Ali Hafed has not returned and that is not a diamond. That is nothing but a stone we found right out here in our own garden.”

The priest protested, “But I know a diamond when I see it. I am sure that that is a diamond!”

As the impact of that statement hit them, they both realized what that meant. It meant that that stream on the property contained diamonds!

When they realized this, they rushed together out into that old garden and stirred up the white sands with their fingers.

And, as unbelievable as it sounds, they discovered other even more beautiful and valuable gems then the first.

At this point in the story the guide looked Dr. Conwell in the eye and said…

“That was how they discovered the diamond-mine of Golconda, the most magnificent diamond-mine in all the history of mankind. The Kohinoor and the Orloff, of the crown jewels of England and Russia, which are the largest diamonds on earth, came from that mine.”

Almost as if on cue, the old guide took off his hat, waved it in the air and then announced the moral of the story…

“Had Ali Hafed remained at home and dug in his own cellar, or underneath his own wheat fields or in his own garden – instead of wretchedness, starvation, and death by suicide in a strange land – he would have had ‘acres of diamonds.’ For every acre of that old farm, yes, every shovelful, afterward revealed gems which since have decorated the crowns of monarchs.”

An Acre of Diamonds 

It was in that moment that Dr. Conwell was struck with the idea that he would later share 6,000 times all around the U.S.

The “Acre of Diamonds” Lesson Dr. Russell Shared with the World:

“In this country of ours every (person) has the opportunity to make more of himself than he does in his own environment, with his own skill, with his own energy, and with his own friends.”

My Translation of His Lesson:

There are opportunities galore – opportunities that you’ve never seen before – right where you are. If you would just begin to pay attention, you’d make an amazing discovery: that the “acre of diamonds” that you’ve been looking for are in your own backyard, 

This lesson and the story you just heard are what Dr. Conwell shared with so many people.

And you might be interested to know, someone in the 1980’s estimated how much money Dr. Conwell made from giving his speech. And the amount was $7 million dollars! 

All from giving a speech based on that one story!

But as I said at the beginning, I think there is a powerful moral to this story that Dr. Conwell completely overlooked. And it could be an even more powerful one than the one he shared!

I’ll share that moral with you in just a minute, but first I want to share some important lessons that will help you to see how Dr. Conwell utilized “how” in such a powerful way.

Dr. Russell Conwell’s Five Lessons for Content Marketers

When I heard the backstory of how Dr. Conwell came upon the story of Ali Hafed, I was struck with this thought: “The same story that the old guide had told was later told by Conwell and it brought him millions of dollars!”

The old guide and Conwell had the same “what.” Their content was the same! So what was the difference? Why was Dr. Conwell able to find so much success and the old guide wasn’t?

I believe that the answers to these questions will lead us to five powerful lessons for content marketers. And they all are focused on the “how”:

1. Dr. Conwell presented the story in a different setting.

The people on the river were there to see the sights, not learn a life-changing lesson. The people who came to hear Dr. Conwell speak, came to hear a life-changing message.

That changed their anticipation and expectation; and I believe that that changed the ultimate impact of his message.

The 1st Lesson for Content Marketers:  

Remember that the setting that you choose to present your content in is just as important as the content itself. Choose your setting wisely.

Pay attention to the mindset of the people you are sharing your content with and do whatever you can to attract people who are ready to receive, and who looking for, the type of information you’re going to share. Because even the best content on the planet will never interest or impact people who aren’t looking for, or don’t care about, that type of information!

This one lesson can make all the difference in the impact of your content.

2. Dr. Conwell presented the story in a different mode.

The old guide told the story “one-on-one” or “one-to-small groups.” But Dr. Conwell took that story and began to tell it “one-to-many.”

He told it to large groups of people at a time. And not only did he tell it to large groups, he later also published it as a biography called Acres of Diamonds.

the book "acres of diamonds"
Russell Conwell’s Biography

That changed how many he could impact with the story at one time. It increased the fame of the story. In fact, that’s why the story is so well-known today.

The 2nd Lesson for Content Marketers:

You must be constantly thinking of ways that you can amplify your content and increase the eyes and ears that consume it.

One of the reasons I write blog posts like the one your reading on this site (and on other sites) is because it increases the eyes and ears of those who can consume my ideas.

Always ask yourself: How can I move this content of mine from a “one-to-small groups” mode to a “one-to-many” mode?

3. Dr. Conwell had a larger platform than the old guide did.

Dr. Conwell was an American Baptist minister, an orator, a philanthropist, a lawyer, and a writer.

This gave him a larger platform (aka audience) to share his message with. The old guide couldn’t compete. The size of his overall audience was probably less than just one of the audiences that Dr. Conwell spoke to.

The 3rd Lesson for Content Marketers:

Sharing your content in “one-to-many” mode is a great, but if you don’t have your own large platform, then it can be a very difficult thing to do.

You should do whatever you can to share your content on other people’s platforms, but you must ultimately be building your own platform.

Why? Because throughout history there has been something that has always been true…

Those who have been able to communicate to the largest groups of people have had the most money, power, influence, and success.

4. Dr. Conwell knew his audience in an intimate way.

It was as I began researching this story that I uncovered something powerful that Dr. Conwell shared at the beginning of his book Acres of Diamonds. He said…

“Friends. — This lecture has been delivered under these circumstances: I visit a town or city, and try to arrive there early enough to see the postmaster, the barber, the keeper of the hotel, the principal of the schools, and the ministers of some of the churches, and then go into some of the factories and stores, and talk with the people, and get into sympathy with the local conditions of that town or city and see what has been their history, what opportunities they had, and what they had failed to do — and every town fails to do something — and then go to the lecture and talk to those people about the subjects which applied to their locality.”

Did you catch that? Dr. Conwell didn’t just give the same, generic talk to every group. 

He intimately knew the background, experiences, and needs of each audience, so he could sympathize and empathize with them.

And then he tweaked his speech so that the application of his universal message would directly apply to that specific audience

The 4th Lesson for Content Marketers:

The content marketer who knows their audience the most deeply and intimately, and then speaks to their specific situation, wins!

This is the way that you can take the same information that everyone else is sharing and have it impact your prospects in a way that no one else’s does.

That means that any/all time you spend on researching your target market is not a waste of time. Instead it’s a boost to any and all content marketing you do in the future, which targets this same audience.

(That is, of course, only if you use the research to speak to them directly.)

5. Dr. Conwell tapped into one of the most powerful forms of content marketing that is often overlooked: public speaking.

I have sort of touched on this with my previous mentions of the power of “one-to-many,” but I want to specifically address it here.

Even though Dr. Conwell later published a book, his main way to share his powerful story was through speaking.

And by choosing this method, he didn’t just make the story famous, he made himself famous.

The 5th Lesson for Content Marketers:

The top content marketers all use public speaking as a way to attract an unending stream of prospects.

Think about it. When they travel around the country giving talks, who are they usually speaking to? They are speaking to fellow marketers, business owners, and large corporations.

Do you realize how important that is? It’s important because each speaking engagement does two extremely powerful things:

  • It gives them the continual opportunity to be positioned as an expert in their field
  • It allows them to constantly be introduced to new prospects

By creating their content in the form of a speech, top content marketing experts get other business and marketing communities to continually share their prospects with them. This is what keeps their sales funnels continually overflowing!

Questions to ask yourself: What kind of talk will be the most attractive to the prospects I am trying to reach? Who has already gathered the audience I am looking for and already needs/wants speakers?

Do you see it now?

Dr. Conwell and the old guide both had great content (the “what”). But it was how Dr. Conwell implemented and presented that content that made all the difference.

The Powerful Moral That Conwell Missed

Before I finish today, I want to finally share with you the moral that I think Dr. Conwell totally missed.

Don’t get me wrong. I think the moral that he came up with is a powerful one: we all are surrounded by opportunities that we are blind to.

But I think the moral I found hidden in the story might be an even more powerful one. Let me explain. As I was writing out the story of Ali Hafed for you I was struck by this statement…

Ali Hafed owned a very large farm. He had orchards, grain-fields, and gardens. He had money saved away at interest and he was a wealthy and contented man.

That is, he was until one day when a Buddhist priest came to visit. 

Ali Hafed was ALREADY a wealthy man! And he was very content! This isn’t the story of a poor man! That’s an important distinction!

Do you remember what sent him on the journey in the first place? If you don’t, here it is again…

And when Ali Hafed heard all about diamonds and how much they were worth, he went to bed that night feeling like a poor man.

He hadn’t lost anything, but he felt poor because he was discontented, and discontented because he was afraid he was poor.

It was when Ali Hafed started comparing what he had to what he didn’t have, that he began to feel poor. That’s when he became discontent. That’s when he began on the journey that ultimately destroyed his life!

Wealthy Amnesiacs

how to be more content in life

Do you now see the moral to this story that Dr. Conwell totally missed?

Dr. Conwell was right. We are surrounded by opportunities that we are clueless about. We need to open our eyes and pay attention, so we don’t miss out on them.

But the fact that Dr. Conwell forgot to remind us about is this one that’s even more pitiful: we are already wealthy and we’ve forgotten this fact!

You and I will become much more content and satisfied in life the moment we begin to focus on all the wealth that we have, instead of all that we don’t have.

What? You don’t feel wealthy? Maybe you’ve forgotten the treasures that are more valuable than any acres of diamonds or mines filled with gold:

  • Friends
  • Family
  • Your health
  • A chance to live one more day

(And any of us in the U.S. who still don’t feel wealthy have forgotten this fact: America’s Poor Still Live Better Than Most Of The Rest Of Humanity.)

When we remember this overlooked moral to the story, we’ll be better content marketers, because we’ll be working from a place of contentment instead of desperation.

That understanding, by itself, will make us and the content we produce more attractive. Why? Because needy, desperate people unintentionally send off a vibe that repels people. But satisfied people are naturally more attractive to us. (I think this applies to companies and marketers too.)

This understanding alone will help us. It will subconsciously begin to impact your “how.” But we can also apply the understanding specifically to our work. And when we do, we’ll see powerful results.

In other words, focus on the prospects and customers you already have, not on all the ones that you don’t have. Treat them each like valuable treasures and watch your attitude (and theirs!) change. This is a way you can consciously and powerfully change your “how.”

And forget about being content marketers for a second. We’ll all just be better people when we remember this truth!

With this truth in your minds and hearts, you should be able to appreciate the acres of diamonds you forgot that you already had.

And with the “how” lessons for content marketers that I have given you, you should also be able to find a new acre (or two) of new diamonds that you’ve been overlooking! 

Because if you apply these lessons, you should be able to see new and greater results from content you’ve already created and from any content you create in the future.


P.S. My book 51 Content Marketing Hacks has been nominated for the 2016 Small Business Book Awards.

The book will be judged on excellence by their panel of judges, but it can also win for community support. 

That means your vote for it can help!   Click here to vote!
(Just click the “Vote’ button and you’re done!) Thanks!

Photo by bark

Sources: I took the original story that the old guide told to Dr. Conwell and put some of it in my own words, but some of the lines that I used are taken directly from the way that Dr. Conwell told it. You can hear Dr. Conwell give an earlier version of this story (in his own words) here.

Scott Aughtmon

Scott Aughtmon is the author of the book 51 Content Marketing Hacks. He is a regular contributor to and he is the person behind the popular infographic 21 Types of Content We Crave. He is a business strategist, consultant, content creation specialist, and speaker. He’s been studying effective marketing and business methods (both online and offline) since 1999. He has a unique perspective and ability to communicate ideas and concepts in a way that can help you climb to new heights. Read more of Scott's insights on his blog. Follow Scott on Twitter @rampbusinesses.