Earlier this year, I saw a video online that lasted only forty-eight seconds. Yet in less than a minute, the video perfectly demonstrates something that decades of research have proven about how global movements are created.
In the video, a man lines up a series of blocks like dominoes, each one proportionally larger than the previous block. The next thing he does is pretty strange.
He reveals a pair of tweezers.
On the end of those tweezers is a tiny domino that he explains is just 5 millimeters tall and 1 millimeter thick. He gently places this domino at the front of the stack, then walks to the back of the stack to erect the final block that stands more than three feet tall and weighs over 100 pounds.
He returns to the front of the display, gets down on one knee, and asks, “Ready?”
As soon as he tips that tiny 1-millimeter domino, a chain reaction begins; at the end, the 100-pound domino slowly topples to the ground.
He then shares an astonishing fact.
“That was 13 dominoes. If I had 29 dominoes, the last domino would be as tall as the Empire State Building.”
This got me thinking. How does one actually build a movement that reaches the top of the Empire State Building?
Let’s rewind to October 2008. On a seemingly regular autumn day, I walked into my local bank and used $25 to open a new account.
That small deposit was the founding of Pencils of Promise, the for-purpose organization that has now built more than 300 schools around the world, educated over 30,000 children and touched hundreds of thousands of lives.
As the organization’s success has grown, I’ve had the good fortune to meet many incredible founders, executives and entrepreneurs. One of the few consistencies I’ve witnessed (besides their recognition that it’s all about the team) is that they all started with an act that can be defined as their “1-millimeter moment.”
From an outsider’s perspective, there’s a false perception that big things only happen when you begin with enormous resources. The truth is that most big dreams start with small, unreasonable acts.
Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook by typing a single line of code. Malala Yousafzai’s journey to the Nobel Peace Prize began when she spoke her first sentence to a visiting journalist seeking to learn more about her region. Countless political and cultural revolutions have been catalyzed by a single act that sparked the imagination and empathy of millions.
With all that in mind, today is International Literacy Day.
Right now, more than 250 million children around the world lack basic reading and writing skills. This is something we can and must change in our lifetimes. It doesn’t require every person to give millions, but we ask that today you make some small act of generosity – even if that’s by sharing your voice – to further someone’s education and raise awareness of this enormous issue.
Today, find your 1-millimeter domino and see what ripple effect you can create.
As for us, we’ll be looking to the sky. If you find yourself in New York City this evening, then I’d encourage you to look up at one of our city’s greatest buildings.
Tonight, Pencils of Promise will light up the Empire State Building.
We’re lighting it bright yellow so that it appears like a gleaming pencil standing in the center of Manhattan. Most of our greatest inventions, scientific breakthroughs, artistic and architectural wonders all began with a single stroke of a pencil. The pencil represents so many things, but most of all it represents possibility.
People will always tell you that your huge, aspirational dream is impossible. Don’t believe the naysayers. It’s okay to start small.(click to Tweet)
If tonight’s shining Empire State Building proves anything, it’s that the guy in the domino effect video was right after all.
For more information, visit pencilsofpromise.org/backtoschool