The Domino Effect

A domino is a small rectangular tile with one or more pips (or dots): 28 of them make up a complete set. The term domino also refers to various games played with such tiles, most often by matching the ends of adjacent pieces and laying them down in lines and angular patterns.

The word Domino derives from the Latin domini, meaning “he who rules.” A domino is an important symbol in many cultures, representing the end of a sequence or chain and the beginning of another. In Christianity, for example, a domino can represent the death of Jesus Christ. It is sometimes used as a metaphor for the collapse of an empire or company, suggesting that once the first domino falls the rest will follow suit.

Physicist Stephen Morris explains that when a domino is standing upright it has potential energy, a force that keeps it upright against the pull of gravity. When it is struck or otherwise disrupted, this potential energy is converted to kinetic energy, which causes the domino to fall. In the case of a line of dominoes, this energy builds up in an exponential manner.

Business experts like Jim Collins and Malcolm Gladwell have explored the concept of the Domino Effect. This phenomenon is the result of a series of small changes or efforts that build upon each other and produce dramatic results. The first of these small changes or efforts is known as the “main domino” and it receives all of the attention and focus until it is completed.

Once the main domino is in place, the other tasks are then able to progress in their own right and eventually become part of the larger whole. This process can be applied to anything from a business to an individual’s personal life.

For example, when Jennifer Dukes Lee began making her bed each day she found herself doing more and more around the house. She cleaned the kitchen, loaded the dishwasher and reorganized the Tupperware cupboards. In doing so she was applying the Domino Effect and building identity-based habits.

In a similar way, when Sam Schwab, CEO of Bethlehem Steel, implemented the Domino Effect strategy at his company, it helped him increase production, reduce costs and win a top workplaces award from the Detroit Free Press. By listening to the feedback of employees, he was able to implement new policies including a relaxed dress code, leadership training programs and a college recruiting system. He was also able to stay true to the company’s core values, including listening to customers. He is credited with turning around the company in just five years.