Lessons From: Charles Darwin taking all the credit

How Charles Darwin took more credit than he deserved

Today is Earth Day, so what better day to talk about a man who helped us understand the way the world works? Charles Darwin, author of On the Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, published in 1859, was a clever man for noticing a pattern of change that had not been noticed before. The fact that every creature in the world's evolution can be traced back to the dawn of time was a pretty groundbreaking discovery for the time, and it is still denied to this day by fundamentalist religious groups convinced that fossils are the devil's plan to destroy our faith in God. 

If you were asked to quote Charles Darwin, you would probably say "Survival of the fittest." Fitness as a biological term means reproductive success, which doesn't necessarily come from strength or endurance but general adaptability, and the phrase itself was even proposed by Alfred Russel Wallace as an alternative to saying "natural selection".

I hate to be the bearer of bad news but Darwin never actually said this. It was actually Herbert Spencer who coined the phrase after having read On the Origin of Species, and actually linked it with his ideas on economics and society. If you've heard of Social Darwinism, the belief that some in society are meant to fare better than others because they're predisposed to do so, then you can finally see where the theory was coming from. 

You'll also be interested to know that, although Charles Darwin did come up with the theory of evolution, he was not the only one to do so. Indeed, Alfred Russel Wallace, nicknamed the father of biogeography, came up with the theory himself when he noticed patterns in nature himself. Whereas Darwin observed the symbiosis in the Galapagos Islands and unique traits certain animals and plants had, Wallace worked in the South America and in Southeast Asia. They even corresponded and sent each other samples, and when Darwin received Wallace's theory, he was surprised to see that they were almost identical. 

You might be wondering, then, why Darwinism is the word associated with evolutionary theory and not Wallacism, and why indeed Alfred Russel Wallace isn't really remembered. When they both lived, they were both pretty famous and since the latter actually lived longer, he had the chance to be Britain's most famous living biologist for a while. Darwin was way better at showing his role in developing the theory, while Wallace tended to downplay himself towards the later years and even mentioned Darwinism in his papers, which, in a way, was passing the credit to his fellow biologist. 

What can we learn from this?

Napoleon Bonaparte said once that soldiers win the battles and the general gets the credit. Although there wasn't a relationship of subordination between Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, they were indeed equals and that is not how the world sees it now. 

When you ask people about who made Apple be what it is, you'll generally hear that it was all about Steve Jobs but they tend to forget that Steve Wozniak ever existed. When you read an investigation, you'll tend to recall the first name and forget the rest of the authors, conveniently writing them off as an "et al." to save yourself the trouble. 48 Laws of Power, Law 7: Get others to do the work for you, but take the credit. 

Whatever you do, be it a collaboration, discovery, project, make sure that your name is the first one on the list and that it's there for all to see, because people will have a bias towards you and give you the credit for what everybody did. It's always the case in big companies, it's been the case with big theories, and it will keep being the case because, if you remember what Sun Tzu said, placement is vital if you want to win

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