Focusing Energy on One Important Task Can Topple Larger Goals and Interests

A domino is a small rectangular block of wood or another material used for game play. Its markings, known as pips, originally represented the results of throwing two six-sided dice. Each domino has either a blank face or one to six dots, with 28 such blocks forming a complete set. When played properly, dominoes can create elaborate patterns of lines and angular shapes. They can also be used to build structures, such as houses or cathedrals.

The most common Western domino game involves two players. The pieces are shuffled and placed in front of each player, with the remainder left behind, called the boneyard. Each player draws at random the number of pieces required for a game, with the leader playing first. The player must follow the rules of the game in order to continue, placing each domino down until there is no longer a piece to play or the player runs out of pieces. Generally, play stops when one player cannot place any more dominoes or when all the pieces are played and the player’s combined total of pips is least.

In a business context, Domino’s is an excellent example of how focusing energy on one important task can help topple larger goals and interests. As Ivy Lee instructed Charles Schwab, Schwab would pick a domino, or task that had the most impact, and devote all his attention to it until its completion. Lee taught him that if each day Schwab prioritized and completed his domino, the momentum from the task could be used to move other priorities forward.

In the 1960s, when Eisenhower was President, Domino’s became a model for the U.S. commitment of resources to support non-communist forces fighting a civil war in South Vietnam against Ngo Dinh Diem’s communist regime. The strategy worked. By 1962, the United States was the world’s largest supplier of arms to non-communist forces fighting in the region and a major exporter of industrialized goods.

As the CEO of Domino’s, Andrew Doyle has taken a similar approach to improving the company’s performance. By implementing new ways for customers to place orders, and deploying technology that supports this effort, Doyle has improved the company’s customer satisfaction, employee engagement, and financial results.

A domino can be a model for the way in which a nerve cell, or neuron, fires. When a neuron fires, it sends out a signal that triggers other neurons to fire in response. These neurons then trigger other neurons to fire, and so on. When a domino is knocked over, it sends out a similar message, which triggers other dominoes to fall in a chain reaction. The force needed to knock over a domino can be calculated using simple mathematics and physics. As the domino moves, it generates a pulse of energy that travels down its entire length. This pulse of energy can be measured with simple tools and is a useful tool in neuroscience, where it is often used to measure the speed of a neuron firing or to study the effect of a drug on its activation.