Ideas made to stick – a scene from West Wing

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —July 30, 2007
Filed in Anecdotes

Made to Stick is one of my favourite books at the moment because it’s well written and well researched. And, you know what? the ideas stick. So I thought I would pass on this sticky story from Victoria Ward’s blog. It’s a scene from West Wing.

In one of the episodes of the final series of the West Wing, CJ Cragg is more and more frustrated by her inability to make a dent, leave something behind. So when someone from an NGO tries to make an appointment with her, she breaks with habit and gives him a slot in her diary.

He overwhelms her with statistics about the atrocities in Sudan. Thousands, millions, terrible things, rape, amputation, devastation. It’s all beyond her grasp, there is nothing she can imagining doing in this vastness of human failure, and he can see from her face that he is losing her attention, so he says, suddenly

‘When the babies die, the mothers carry them round in their arms because there is nowhere to put them down.’

20 words (I approximate, from memory.)

‘When the babies die, the mothers carry them round in their arms because there is nowhere to put them down.’

About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:


  1. Being a Wing nut – I remember the scene very well and it reminded me of Stalin’s quote “A single death is a tragedy, are million deaths is a statistic.;
    I have long supposed that this comment was made because the human mind can’t fully comprehend so many people dying. If it did we might be overwhelmed.
    Maybe one day we will look at West Wing for other nuggets of managerial advice. One of my favourite quotes is from Toby Ziegler – after there has been a leak and he summons all the staff in and says ”
    “We’re a group. We’re a team. From the President and Leo on through, we’re a team. We win together, we lose together. We celebrate and we mourn together. And defeats are softened and victories are sweeter because we did them together… You’re my guys and I’m yours… and there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for you.
    Maybe some managers need to look at that especially for an after action review which I have seen dissolve into a hunt the scapegoat procedure and no new knowledge is shared.

  2. Shawn says:

    Yes, I remember the Toby speech well. I’m certain there are many things to learn or at the very least trigger points to create new conversations. Actually it was a one liner from Sam Seaborn that started a debate between me and Dave Snowden ( Sam mentioned the the Frost poem was commonly misinterpreted thinking that the poem was advocating fences but in fact he was suggesting that in many cases no fences were required. So I checked it out and agreed with Sam Seaborn.

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