What is a Domino Effect?

Whether it’s a line of thousands of dominos set up in careful sequence, or a series of social or political events that tip each other over one after the other, a domino effect can be quite spectacular. It’s not a surprise, then, that the word itself has come to describe a similar phenomenon: the way one event or decision can lead to several others with far-reaching consequences.

Dominoes, also called bones, cards, men, or pieces, are rectangular tiles with a central line that visually divides them into two squared ends, each bearing a value of spots, called pips. Depending on the game and the whims of the players, these end-values can either be open or closed, with a tile being considered “heavy” if it has more pips than a less-heavy one. The shape of the chain that develops snakes along the table according to the rules and the limitations of the playing surface.

When playing a domino game, each player takes turns adding tiles to the chain. Normally, a domino must be placed so that its matching end (if it has one) touches the edge of a previous tile — or, in the case of a double — is perpendicular to it. This arrangement, which can be a challenge to execute due to space constraints or the whim of the players, is what makes the game fun and adds to the excitement.

In a multi-round game, the players may score by counting the number of pips on opposing pieces: a single tile may have either one or two pips, while a double-blank is either zero or fourteen. The player who has the highest total count after a given number of rounds wins.

A domino show is a type of entertainment in which domino builders construct intricate and imaginative chains of tiles before a live audience. The most skilled domino builders have an almost mystical ability to create these elaborate structures, often with the slightest of nudges. Watching such an act is both awe-inspiring and humbling as the builder demonstrates his or her skill.

In business, a domino effect occurs when a small change causes an unexpected reaction that has far-reaching implications. For example, a small change in the way an employee is treated can have a domino effect on other employees, leading to a series of small changes that impact the whole organization. This kind of domino effect is the reason why it’s so important for leaders to maintain strong communication with their employees and listen carefully to their concerns. One company that has done this well is Domino’s Pizza, which earned the Top Workplaces Leadership Award in 2004 thanks to a policy that emphasizes the importance of listening to customers. The company has even developed a special website where people can report customer complaints. Domino’s focuses on responding to those concerns quickly, and this approach has had positive results.