About the book


Bending granite defies the laws of physics but not the limits of our imagination. Granite is rock — hard, solid, tough, resistant to change. Like granite, many of our most durable institutions today — government agencies, schools, businesses, healthcare facilities, community organizations — are designed not to bend easily but rather to do the same things over and over in predictable and orderly ways. They can become impervious to change, however, inflexible in the face of opportunities, better at creating floors, walls, and ceilings of policies, protocols, and standards than adapting to rapidly changing times and abandoning things that no longer work.


The stories in Bending Granite are by difference makers who were passionate about their organizations and persistently and patiently nudged them forward day by day, one improvement at a time. No big bang, no instant pudding, no quick fixes here. Only through tending to purpose, processes, and people were they able to shape but not break the organizations they loved. Theirs are stories of change and continuous improvement.


With humility, humor, and honesty, the contributors describe their first-hand experiences—learned from trial and error and from one another—in a broad range of organizations including manufacturing, education, health, banking, insurance, service industries, military, construction, families, and government.


Zooming out from one medium-sized city in Wisconsin and building on over fifty years of the international momentum for improving quality, Bending Granite takes you behind the curtain to reveal not only the “why” but the “how, who, when, and where” of leading change.


The book’s format is a series of stories and first-hand accounts told by leaders of change. Each scenario supports an elegant three-part model of the basic building blocks of success— Purpose (What we do and why), Process (How we do it), and People (Who drive change). Management fads come and go, but the authors of Bending Granite believe these three elements are the unchanging “must-haves” for leadership and organizational success.


The Origin Story

Generations of passionate teachers, learners, and leaders striving for quality using the principles and practice of continuous improvement inspired our book, Bending Granite. Some were elders who taught us – they include Dr. W Edwards Deming, Joseph Juran, Myron Tribus, Dr. George Box, Brian and Laurie Joiner, Peter Scholtes, and so many others. Some are practitioners who rolled up their sleeves and did the work, including those who offered their stories of how they did it as part of Bending Granite. And others represent the hope that the next generation of change agents are well equipped to take on the charge of bending granite into the future.


We know the tools for bend granite work. In a world where the speed and complexity of change are growing exponentially, knowing the difference between change and improvement will differentiate the leaders from the also ran’s. These stories provide examples of what others have done, what you can do, and what others must do to reduce waste and improve our odds that the changes we make are improvements.


Hats off to our elders, who took the abstraction of quality and bent it into a set of principles and practices we can all use every day to make the world a better place. A toast to the practitioners who rolled up their sleeves and applied the teachings, and are telling their stories. Most importantly, here is a charge to the future leaders who will carry the torch for quality and continuous improvement to the next generation. It can be done, it must be done, and you can do it! 


Table of Content


Preface: “Greater and More Beautiful”


Chapter One: Purpose and Strategy

Introduction: The Power of Purpose

Bending Granite by David C. Couper

From Fast Follower to Industry Leader by Jim St. Vincent

From “Paths to Recovery” to “NIATx” by Dave Gustafson


Chapter Two: Customer Focus

Introduction: For Whom Do We Exist?

Walk in Their Shoes by Tom Mosgaller

Voices of Inside Experts by Cathy Caro-Bruce

The Shirtless Dancer Guy by Connie Thompson


Chapter Three: Systems Thinking

Introduction: A Virtuous Cycle

Adjusting to Meet the Moment by Turina Bakken

The Urban Forest by Guy Van Rensselaer

The Sergeant’s Role in Leading Change by Luis Yudice

A People Business by Janice Smith


Chapter Four: Process Design and Improvement

Introduction: Why Oil Is on the Floor

Trouble with Ant Bait by Dave Boyer

Checkers Checking Checkers by Tim Hallock

“Cancel the Meeting!” by Kevin Little

You Get What You Measure by Ben Reynolds

Never Waste a Crisis by Michael Williamson


Chapter Five: Managing by Facts

Introduction: Cutting through the Choices

Working 99 to 5 by John Wiley

It’s in Our Hands by Matt Albert

From Inspection to Improvement by Greg Simmons

Faster, Less Costly, More Effective by Kurt Southworth


Chapter Six: People, Culture, Community

Introduction: Creating a Wave!

Pull v. Push by Maury Cotter

Good Enough for Government Work by Tom Mosgaller

One Family at a Time by Karen Crossley

Disaster at the Ritzy Restaurant by Kathleen Paris

A Deeper Sense of People and Purpose by Denis Leonard

I’m Late, I’m Late, for a Very Important (Surgery) by Anonymous


Chapter 7: Leadership

Introduction: You Step Up, You Learn, You Get Better

Banking on Quality by Jim Bradley

Leading with Powerful Questions by Terri Potter

It All Came Together by Joe Sensenbrenner

The Harambee Collaboration by Paul Soglin

Be Curious, Get Furious, Experiment by Kent Lesandrini

It’s in the Water by Jim Bradley


Epilogue: Leading Change Now

Appendix: Resources and Connections





Bending Granite is in the final stages of preparation for publication. Please subscribe to be notified when it is available for purchase. Thank you!