The Domino Effect

The domino effect is a principle that describes any situation in which one small trigger causes a chain reaction that leads to an outcome more dramatic than the original cause. It’s a little like the way that one neuron firing sends a pulse down an axon to stimulate other neurons, with the result being that a complex sequence of events is set off. Domino effects can occur in a wide range of situations, from something as simple as someone spilling coffee on themselves to an event as dramatic as an automobile accident.

A domino is a small rectangular block used for gaming, typically made of wood or plastic and topped with either black or white pips. These pips represent the numbers of sides on each piece. Each domino is normally twice as long as it is wide, but some types of dominoes are made with the pips on only one side or none at all. In addition to being a fun game, dominoes can be used to make intricate art. People can create curved lines, grids that form pictures, or even 3D structures using dominoes.

While the exact origin of the word and the game are unknown, they share a similar history. Both are thought to be derived from French, though the meaning of domino may have evolved from its earlier senses. The word may have referred to a long hooded cloak that was worn together with a mask during carnival season, or it may have been the name of a type of priestly cape that contrasted against a white surplice. The domino pieces themselves have been made from a variety of materials, including silver lip ocean pearl oyster shell (mother-of-pearl) and ivory. They have also been made from darker hardwoods such as ebony, and in some cases, the lower half of a domino was a darker color than the upper part.

In addition to their use as a game and an art form, dominoes can be used in education and training to develop problem-solving skills. For example, students can work in groups to create a series of dominoes that show how to solve an equation. These can then be used in classrooms to illustrate the effect of a single action having a major impact on the final result.

When writing a novel, the domino effect can help writers develop a plot. By analyzing the impact of each plot beat, the writer can ensure that the next part of the story is set up to continue the momentum. This is an important skill because, as we’ve discussed in our article on plotting a novel, the best fiction has a clear path to its conclusion.

In his 2014 commencement speech, Admiral William H. McRaven shared a personal domino effect with the graduates of the University of Texas at Austin. He recalled that when his mother told him to “make your bed every day,” she was actually making a small, consistent commitment that would have a big impact. When he committed to that habit, it led to other positive behaviors, such as getting a good night’s sleep and having healthy habits around nutrition and exercise.

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