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Over a century ago, Russell Conwell was famous for his traveling lecture in which he encouraged listeners to find the “acres of diamonds” in their own backyards. He was born in Massachusetts in 1843 and during the Civil War served as a captain in the Union army. He studied law, but became a Baptist minister and a popular public speaker. “Acres of Diamonds” was his most famous talk which he delivered over 6000 times! Making him one of the original motivational speakers.
At the heart of “Acres of Diamonds” was a parable Conwell heard while traveling through present-day Iraq in 1870 and in summary it goes like this:
There was once a wealthy man named Ali Hafed who lived not far from the River Indus. “He was contented because he was wealthy, and wealthy because he was contented.” One day a priest visited Ali Hafed and told him about diamonds.
Ali Hafed heard all about diamonds, how much they were worth, and went to his bed that night a poor man. He had not lost anything, but he was poor because he was discontented, and discontented because he feared he was poor.
Ali Hafed sold his farm, left his family, and traveled to Palestine and then to Europe searching for diamonds. He did not find them. His health and his wealth failed him. Dejected, he cast himself into the sea.
One day, the man who had purchased Ali Hafed’s farm found a curious sparkling stone in a stream that cut through his land. It was a diamond. Digging produced more diamonds — acres of diamonds, in fact. This, according to the parable, was the discovery of the famed diamonds of Golconda.
The point of the story is that we often dream of fortunes to be made elsewhere. We ought instead to be open to the opportunities that are around us. He illustrates this concept with several other stories, including that of the discovery of Gold in California. Another is a farmer in Pennsylvania sold his farm for $833 and went to work for his cousin in Canada, collecting oil. Shortly after, the man who purchased the farm found oil worth millions of dollars.
Now I’m not suggesting you physically go and start digging up your backyard, as this is a story, so how can you find the acres of diamonds in your own backyards?
- Maintain a ready mind. Be open to the possibilities around you. Don’t let preconceived notions cloud your judgment. We often overlook the value of something because we believe we already know it.
- Look at the familiar in new ways. Conwell lists some important inventions — the snap-button, the cotton gin, the mowing machine — and notes that these were created by everyday people who found new approaches and new uses for commonplace objects.
- Learn what people want, then give it to them. Discover a market, and the provide a good or a service. Too many people do this the other way around. They develop a good or a service and then try to market it, try to manufacture desire. You’ll have more success if you see a desire and then try to meet it.
- Knowledge is more important than capital. Lack of capital is a common excuse for not starting a business venture. How often have you heard, “You need money to make money.” Nonsense, says Conwell. He gives anecdotes of wealthy people who started with nothing but an idea.
- Don’t put yourself down, and don’t belittle your environment. Don’t compare yourself with others. “Believe in the great opportunities that are right here not over in New York or Boston, but here — for business, for everything that is worth living for on earth. There was never an opportunity greater.” Find the best in what’s around you.
Are you one of those people who looks for diamonds in faraway places. Is the grass really greener there? Is there an opportunity that has been in front of you all the time. Have you taken stock of your life lately? Perhaps there are diamonds sitting just outside your back door.
In reading Acres of Diamonds, I am also reminded of the biblical Parable of the Prodigal Son, who was wiser because he at least had the common sense to return home and beg forgiveness. Your diamonds are not in far-away mountains or in distant seas; they are usually in your own back yard if you will take the time to look for them.”
How might you apply this story to your business? We always think that the grass is greener on the other side, but it is seldom that case. In what instances could the grass be greener on the other side?
Ali Hafed had been standing on his own “Acres of Diamonds” until he sold his farm.
Common Sense Ideas
- Each of us is right in the middle of our own Acres of Diamonds, if only we would realize it and develop the ground we are standing on before charging off in search of greener pastures
- Opportunity does not just come along – it is there all the time – we just have to see it
- In life, when we go searching for “something,” we should know what that “something” looks, smells and tastes like so that we can recognize it when we find it
- The grass isn’t always greener on the other side
- Before we give up what we already have, make sure that what we’re getting is better than what we already have
- Your family comes first, they are part of your support structure and will help you through the most difficult times
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