The Domino Effect

Domino is the name of a type of game or toy, but it’s also a metaphor for a larger life phenomenon: The domino effect. Basically, it’s any action that causes other events to happen—usually with much greater—consequences. You’ve probably seen this in action if you’ve ever played the game, or watched someone construct an elaborate domino art piece. You can even see it at work in business: A good leader is essential to the success of a company, but so are effective communication and listening skills.

In fact, one of the most important lessons I try to convey to clients when providing book editing services is to think of every scene in a novel as a domino. The idea is that each scene must be positioned strategically so it can impact the scenes that follow. A single scene by itself may not be that exciting, but a whole series of them, each properly influenced by the preceding ones, can create a chain reaction that’s hard to stop.

The word domino comes from the Latin domini, meaning “he who rules.” It originally denoted a long hooded garment worn with a mask during carnival season or at a masquerade. But the word’s meaning soon expanded to encompass other kinds of cloth or garments, including a cape that a priest might wear over his surplice. The modern sense of a domino is thought to have appeared after 1750.

As a toy, domino is used to make chains or patterns by stacking them on end in long lines. Each time a domino is tipped, it causes the next in line to tip over as well. This can be done in very complicated ways, resulting in intricate 3D structures and 2D grids that form pictures when they fall.

A domino set can be made of various materials, including bone, silver lip ocean pearl oyster shell (mother of pearl), ivory or a dark hardwood like ebony, with contrasting black or white pips inlaid or painted on the edges. In recent years, some sets have been made out of natural stone (e.g., marble or granite) and other non-wood materials.

Dominoes can be used to play many different games, but the most common is simply placing them end to end and counting the dots on the exposed ends (i.e., one’s touch two’s, two’s touch three’s, etc). Other games involve blocking or scoring points. A few of the most popular include a variation of Concentration and a simple strategy game.

In business, the concept of domino is often ascribed to the way a single event can affect everything. For example, a business might be in trouble if the CEO makes a bad decision that impacts customers or employees. If that happens, it could lead to bankruptcy or a decline in the business’s reputation.

To avoid this, the CEO must be attentive to all aspects of the company and act fast when problems are identified. For example, when the Detroit Free Press Top Workplaces survey revealed a lack of trust in leadership at Domino’s Pizza, the company’s owner responded quickly by implementing new communication practices and listening to employees. This resulted in a revitalized culture and a turnaround for the company.