The Domino Effect

The word domino is often used to describe something that starts a chain reaction, creating an effect that is greater than the sum of its parts. While the etymology of this word is unclear, it is clear that the concept it represents is powerful and useful. In the realm of business, domino refers to a key strategy for accomplishing difficult tasks. A good example of this is the adage “Pick one, stick with it.” By identifying the most important task for a given day and giving it your full attention until its completion, you can create a domino effect that will allow you to tackle bigger, more complicated projects.

Dominoes are large rectangular blocks of varying shapes and colors, usually marked with numbers or an arrangement of dots. The most common variant features two square sides, with one marked with an arrangement of spots, or pips, and the other blank or identically patterned. The value of a domino depends on the number of pips marked on each side and the position of those pips. The more pips a domino has, the higher its rank or weight.

Like playing cards, of which they are a variant, each domino has potential energy or stored energy based on its position. When a domino is standing upright, the potential energy of its pips and position are transmitted to other pieces on the board; once enough energy has been transferred, the piece will fall over and initiate a new chain reaction. When a domino falls, much of its potential energy is converted to kinetic energy, or energy of motion, which travels to the next domino and gives it the push it needs to fall over as well.

When Lily Hevesh was 9, she played with her grandparents’ classic 28-pack of dominoes, falling one set after another. She soon started making videos of her creations online, and now, at 20, she’s a professional domino artist, designing sets for movies, TV shows, and events—including a Katy Perry album launch. Hevesh’s mind-blowing domino setups feature straight lines, curved lines, grids that form pictures when they fall, and 3D structures such as towers and pyramids.

As a writer, Hevesh uses the concept of dominoes to help her plot novels. She makes test versions of each section of an installation, arranging and filming them in slow motion so she can make precise corrections when something doesn’t work out. When she’s confident that each individual section works, she puts them all together—starting with the biggest 3-D sections and moving toward more linear arrangements—in order to complete an entire installation.

This process allows Hevesh to ensure that the individual pieces of her installation are arranged in the most effective way to achieve the desired result. Similarly, business leaders should follow the same strategy when developing and executing their plans. To maximize the effect of their actions, they should prioritize the most important tasks—those with the greatest impact on their business—and commit to them until they are completed.