The Domino Effect

Dominoes are small rectangular wood or plastic blocks, usually 28 in number, that have identifying marks on one side and are blank or marked by an arrangement of dots resembling those on dice on the other. They can be set up in straight or curved lines, grids that form pictures when they fall, stacked walls, or even 3D structures like towers and pyramids. Dominoes are also used for games of skill and chance, with rules varying widely depending on the game and players.

Lily Hevesh began collecting dominoes when she was 9 years old. Her grandparents had the classic 28-piece set, and she loved setting them up in a straight or curved line and flicking the first domino to watch them all fall, one after the other. By 13, Hevesh was creating and posting videos of her domino art on YouTube. Now 20, she’s a professional domino artist, with more than 2 million YouTube subscribers. Her impressive installations take weeks to complete and can involve hundreds of thousands of dominoes. Hevesh’s designs are mind-blowing, but she says there is one physical phenomenon that makes them possible: gravity. “When a domino is knocked over, its potential energy converts to kinetic energy and gives the next domino something to push against,” she says. “That energy travels down the line until it reaches the last domino, which then tumbles over.”

This isn’t just a fun hobby for Hevesh—it’s an exercise in engineering design. When she creates an installation, she starts by thinking about the theme or purpose of the piece and brainstorming images or words that might relate to it. Then she works out how many dominoes she will need, based on the complexity of the design and the size of the display area. Next, she builds a test version of the section and films it in slow motion to check that it will work as intended. Once she’s confident each domino will fall in the right place, she puts them all together.

For Domino’s, an organization that has built its reputation on fast pizza delivery, such a domino effect would be catastrophic. After a series of missteps in leadership, including high employee turnover and financial trouble, Domino’s CEO Patrick Doyle recognized the need for change. He started experimenting with different business initiatives, such as delivering food via drones and introducing new pizza ingredients—but he was largely addressing a symptom of a larger problem. The company’s culture had become stale, and its leaders didn’t communicate effectively with each other or with customers. This misalignment had left Domino’s unprepared for the future, and it was quickly running out of time to correct it.