The Domino Effect


A domino is a flat thumb-sized block that has one side bearing an arrangement of dots or pips and the other blank. Twenty-eight such domino pieces (or “tiles”) form a complete set. Each tile has a line in the middle to divide it visually into two parts and carries from one to six dots or pips, with the sum of the values shown on both ends indicating its rank or weight. The word is also used for various games played with these tiles. The dominoes can be arranged in lines and angular structures, and the various games involve emptying the hand of the player, blocking opponents’ play, and scoring.

Dominoes are small enough to be manageable in a confined workshop but detailed enough to demand respect for the crafter. They are the physical embodiment of the idea that a small trigger can create a chain reaction. The domino effect, also referred to as the Butterfly Effect, is an example of this principle. It describes how one event can change many others in a similar way, and is often used to explain the spread of an epidemic or political instability.

In business, the domino effect can be employed in the creation of a new system or process. In this case, the triggering event is a small change in routine or behavior that leads to a cascade of positive effects. For example, when Jennifer Dukes Lee began making her bed each day, she made a small commitment to her identity as someone who keeps a clean home. Over time, this habit led to a shift in her beliefs about herself and the way she treated other areas of her life.

The idiom has also been applied to business strategy and leadership. Domino’s CEO David Doyle, for example, recognized that the company’s reputation for unremarkable pizza and anemic customer service was not helping it achieve its growth potential. He decided to spice up the menu and engage in other daring marketing.

Although dominoes are typically a plastic polymer, they may also be made from wood or other natural materials, such as ivory; stone (including marble and granite); metals like brass and pewter; ceramic clay; or even crystal. The latter is more expensive than polymer sets, but offers an attractive, tactile feel and a heavier weight that can add to the game’s appeal.

Most domino games are positional, with players taking turns placing a domino edge to edge against another in order to form a chain of dominoes whose value is determined by the sum of the numbers on both sides. Each player may play a domino only when it is the first or last to reach that value; the players then score points. The game stops when a player cannot continue to play, or until all of the players’ hands run out. The winners are those whose partners have the lowest total number of spots on their remaining dominoes. The most popular positional domino game is draw, which is commonly played with seven dominoes.