Many people are familiar with the game of domino, in which small square blocks are stacked on end to form long rows. When one is knocked over, it triggers a chain reaction that causes the rest of the row to fall over, and so on. The concept behind this popular hobby has also given rise to the idiom domino effect, which describes any situation in which one event leads to a series of similar events. The word domino itself is derived from the Latin term for “falling.”
Dominoes are often used as toys, and children can create complex designs by stacking them on top of each other. They can even use them to build structures with unique shapes. Dominoes are made of rigid material, such as wood or bone, and each has a side that features an arrangement of spots (also called pips) and another that is blank. The number of pips on each side is determined by the type of domino and is sometimes indicated on the tile. Dominoes that have more pips are usually described as having a higher rank or weight, while those that have fewer pips are considered lighter.
A famous example of the domino effect took place during World War II, when President Eisenhower cited it to explain America’s decision to offer aid to South Vietnam, a move that might cause Communism to spread across the region. Although this was a political scenario, the term has since been applied to any situation in which one action triggers a cascade of similar events.
Physicists have a special affinity for dominoes, because they are an excellent model of physical energy. When a domino is struck, its inertia causes it to resist motion until it receives a sufficient force. This is the same principle that explains why a ball rolling down a hill tends to continue rolling, even after it loses momentum.
Hevesh, a domino artist who has worked on projects with more than 300,000 dominoes, says one physical phenomenon is key to her creations: gravity. This force pulls a falling domino toward Earth, and this motion is the source of its domino effect. It is also similar to the way a nerve impulse travels along an axon, creating a pulse that moves at a steady rate and only in one direction.
Hevesh believes that the domino effect can be used to help us break down our goals into good, manageable pieces. For instance, she once encouraged a client to identify the most important task of his day and focus on that until it was completed. This was the first domino in a process that eventually led to his company becoming the largest independent steel producer in the world. This type of work is a “good domino,” she says, because it has a positive impact on future endeavors. Other examples of good dominoes include writing a business plan or working on a health challenge. By picking the right tasks to tackle, we can ensure that they will have the greatest possible impact on our lives.