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Thinking Like a Domino


A domino is a small rectangular block, thumb-sized or smaller, with one side either blank or marked by dots or numbers (usually 1 to 6). A complete set consists of 28 such blocks, which are sometimes called “dominoes.” There are several games played using dominoes. The simplest is simply placing a domino edge to edge against another, thereby forming an alternating pattern of two adjacent sides.

A larger set can be extended by adding more tiles with matching pips on both ends, creating a larger “domino yard.” This is often done with the goal of forming lines or angular patterns that require fewer dominoes to reach completion. The most common extended sets are double-nine (55 tiles), double-12, and double-15.

Domino is also used as a figurative name for someone who keeps control of the situation and understands how things are connected to each other. This is a good quality for leaders, especially those who are trying to fix problems in their businesses. One example is Domino’s Pizza CEO Don Meij, who was featured in a recent episode of the hit show Undercover Boss. He went undercover to visit a busy Domino’s restaurant and its delivery service to see firsthand the challenges that employees face. He then worked directly with employees to make changes that would help them succeed in their jobs.

The same sort of thinking is important for writers of fiction, whether they are planning their story out with a detailed outline or writing as they go (a practice known as “pantsing.”) If a writer is not careful, he or she may end up with scenes that don’t fit together well or that don’t have enough impact on the scene that preceded them. To avoid this, it is helpful to look at your story like a domino effect.

When you watch a domino construction, the pieces all fall in a smooth cascade of motion that’s almost musical. That’s because each domino has potential energy stored in it. When you nudge that first domino just so, it releases that energy, which then moves on to the next domino and so on.

If you don’t want to use a domino model, you can test the theory by taking a single domino and gently nudge it. Notice what happens, then try a few more times with increasing amounts of pressure. Keep in mind that the more force you apply, the more the domino will move and the faster it will fall.