The Domino Effect

Garrett MacLean
Jul 4 · 4 min read

In 1983, the American Journal of Physics discovered a breakthrough. Great minds came together and figured out a normal everyday domino could knock over a preceding domino that is bigger, taller, wider, and up to 50% larger than its original size. On the surface, this may seem minuscule, but with further thought, one may come to realize the slightest nudge results in enough potential energy to knock over a skyscraper taller than Mt. Everest. It’s amazing to think what people discover about the world when they let their curiosity lead them.

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence.” -Albert Einstein

The notion of dominoes leads me back to 2015. I was aboard a bus going from Madrid to Granada, chockablock of college students minutes away from pulling up to Park Federico Garcia Lorca where we would meet our study abroad host families. I remember it being a scorcher. The heat was not kind in allowing our group to forget about our last night’s jamboree in the Spanish capital’s largest night-club, seven-story Teatro Kapital.

We wicked the sweat off our foreheads and my roommate and best friend, Luke, spotted a petite, Spanish woman clutching her purse with her left hand, and viciously waving her right to get our attention. “Luke!” “Garrett!” “Chicos!” We sigh in relief that we get to excuse ourselves from the heat.

We greet each other and she begins to start speaking Spanish with great rapidity. Keep in mind, I don’t know a lick of Spanish. Consequently, to impress my new host mother, I put on full display my extensive Spanish repertoire of terms and phrases…

Maria and her husband, Juan, were retired professionals in their mid-sixties who have been hosting study abroad students for 15+ years. They loved the company and were quick to share with us the lay of the land. She used to say, “You came here to live in Granada. Spend very little time inside at home. Get out there and explore!” Juan, a stoic Spanish man, who was fond of rolling his own cigarillos right on the kitchen table would chime in, “Siempre si, Nunca no.” Always yes, never no. A profound way to approach life summed up in a few words.

The nights we would stumble home from the Discoteca, the setting remained identical: Maria and Juan would be drinking cervezas with longtime friends, a Spanish game show aired in the background, and steady clouds of smoke permeated the halls. All of which was centered around the main event: a high-strung, ultra-competitive, 2v2 game of dominoes.

One Saturday night, we struck up a friendly match and realized, there was more underneath the surface of our unassuming hosts. Maria and Juan were esteemed veterans in their craft, utilizing a code language to execute their stratagem with military precision. When it came to dominoes, they whooped our butts mercilessly.


A while back, I sat down to read “The ONE Thing” written by Gary Keller, American entrepreneur, best-selling author, and founder of Keller Williams, the largest real estate company in the world. Mr. Keller is also someone who is an esteemed veteran in his craft — teaching and educating others. Here is an excerpt from his national best-seller,

“So when you think about success, shoot for the moon. The moon is reachable if you prioritize everything and put all of your energy into accomplishing the most important thing. Getting extraordinary results is all about creating a domino effect in your life.

Toppling dominoes is pretty straightforward. You line them up and tip over the first one. In the real world, though it’s a bit more complicated. The challenge is that life doesn’t line everything for us and say, “Here’s where you should start.” Highly successful people know this. So every day they line up their priorities anew, find the lead domino, and whack away at it until it falls.

Why does this approach work? Because extraordinary success is sequential, not simultaneous. What starts out linear, becomes geometric. You do the right thing, and then do the next right thing. Over time it adds up, and the geometric potential of success is unleashed. The domino effect applies to the big picture, like your work of your business, and it applies to the smallest amount in each day when you’re trying to decide what to do next. Success builds on success, and as this happens, over and over, you move towards the highest success possible.

When you see someone who has a lot of knowledge, they learned it over time. When you see someone who has a lot of skills, they developed them over time. When you see someone who has done a lot, they accomplished it over time. When you see someone who has a lot of money, they earned it over time.

The key is over time. Success is built sequentially. It’s one thing at a time.”

One of the great joys of reading books is that you can latch onto an idea and let your imagination do the heavy lifting. From my vantage point, what I gathered was if you want to become good or even great at something, it requires a lengthy amount of time. A lot more time than one may, at present, be able to conceive. Whether that means becoming an awe-inspiring virtuoso pianist, gaining fluency in Mandarin, constructing a successful business empire, or even just beating your friends in Saturday night dominoes, things take time. The goal is mastering the art of knocking over the first domino, and reaping the benefits that follow.

I encourage you to take a moment to yourself and think, “What’s my first domino?” “If I am able to accomplish this small task, what could I do next?” Maybe that’s finding a mentor for an apprenticeship, or signing up for a free online class. Maybe for starters, that’s just sitting down in the chair. Whatever your first domino may be, identify it, and ‘whack away until it falls.’

“Your next step is simple. You are the first domino.”

-Gary W. Keller

Garrett MacLean

Written by

San Diego Native. Colorado Buff. Teacher in Ho Chi Minh City.

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