It is not the strongest of the species that survives

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most adaptable to change.”

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most adaptable to change Charles DarwinThis quotation is one of the most popular and misattributed phrases on the internet — most people think it’s something Charles Darwin wrote. He didn’t. It’s from Leon Megginson, a Louisiana professor of business management.

To encourage proper attribution, I thought I’d seed the internet with three images that give Dr Megginson his credit. The hope is that these images might eventually get included in Google search results when people are searching for pre-made slides that have the quote.

It is not the strongest species that surviveThe first version features a Galapagos marine iguana with its mouth open, as if it was saying something. It’s actually yawning, so use cautiously if you are a boring speaker.

The second slide is a photograph of Leon C. Megginson himself, looking confident in front of chalkboard.

The final image is a photograph of Charles Darwin, the man who clearly inspired Megginson.

It is not the strongest of the species that survivesAs proof of why we need to get the word out about the quote’s source, here’s a feed showing how all the recent usage on Twitter.:

Most of the tweets are from nutritionists, motivational speakers, and business management types.

By the way, the misattribution exists even among people who should know better. E.g., the quote is found on the wall of the Charles Darwin Foundation’s gift shop, and on the floor of the California Academy of Science.

If you need an actual quote from Darwin, there are hundreds of thousands to choose from. Just browse Darwin Online for all his books (~42 of them!), articles (~246), letters, and notebooks. There’s also the Darwin Correspondence Project.

2 thoughts on “It is not the strongest of the species that survives

  1. Zac Zalanski

    What is the basis for this statement?
    > …Charles Darwin, the man who clearly inspired Megginson
    […who’s the true author of the quote “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most adaptable to change.”]

    What evidence is there available to conclude, or even to suggest, that it was Darwin’s thinking that was channelled in this quote by
    Leon C. Megginson, Professor of Management and Marketing at Louisiana State University, most known for his book “Personnel: A Behavioral Approach to Administration”, winner of the Academy of Management Book Award in 1967.

    These is undoubtedly a meaning this quote that is remarkably applicable to the study of management, personnel administration, and sociology at large. But was the conclusion in this quote even remotely based on Darwin’s work and Darwin’s theories? Was there anything in Megginson’s work, writing, teaching, in any way, even implicitly, suggesting that Megginson was entertaining Darwin’s theories and/rr thinking in his own studies of “A Behavioral Approach to Administration and Personnel Management”?

    Because it seems that what we are saying is, the quote is not actually Darwin’s, but for all intents and purposes it just might have been.

    And if there is no proof of such connection, then on what basis do we consider the validity of the meaning of the statement in the quote which was neither made in the context Darwinism, a theory of biological evolution species, one of the most foundational postulates of the modern understanding of the the world (and which is still subject to not only a debate in our society, but, effectively, the existential divide in the understanding of the origins and ontology of our civilization).
    Without the backing of Darwinism — and not even as a theory to be accepted or not, but as an immense body of work and thought that has been invested into this subject by the humanity — the statement in this quote — as much wisdom as it may seem to exude and as sexy as it may sound, and even making common sense — has only as much credence as can be given to Professor of Management and Marketing, with no credentials in biology and natural sciences, making a conclusion about rules of survival of the species based on his life-long study of human work force behavior in business setting in response to various administration and management stimuli.

    As much as I, myself, like this quote and like to use it, unless I know the authority of its origination, I must relegate it to being a fluke, or just something taken out of context.

    Unlike with other “catchy phrases” representing conventional and self-evident wisdom, in the case of this quote, its origin, particularly the name of its author, was what was giving credibility and to its meaning. On its own, the conclusion is not at all self-evident.

    This may be a reason why many establishments, despite knowing of the misattribution, decide to keep credit to Darwin.

    San Francisco Academy of Sciences, where I have been more times than I can count, while living in San Francisco, is primarily an entertainment establishment and only secondarily scientific, so I can see why they would not have problem simply dropping credit to Darwin from under the quote.
    …And thus, plagiarizing the quotation. Although, without credit to Darwin, given the nature of its real author, this quote is just a sexy-sounding intellectual inquiry, a hypothesis, but nothing more than this.

  2. John Allen

    The beginning of the quote reads as follows and is rarely included: [“According to Darwin’s Origin of Species,”] and continues [“it is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself.“

    Megginson, ‘Lessons from Europe for American Business’, Southwestern Social Science Quarterly (1963)]

    Darwin himself would not begin a sentence in this way, referencing himself in the third person to establish authority for the validity of the statement.

    Leon clearly was inspired by Darwin and clearly credited his research and referenced it purposefully to draw upon the authority that is Darwin’s research.

    However, Leon himself made the connection to his work as a business educator and the quote is an original summation that was published in Leon’s name. It cannot be found verbatim in any of Darwin’s writings.

    This the nature of a quote. It is attributed to whomever composed it verbatim, not the person who inspired the idea and reasoning behind the quote. To say the quote is not Megginson’s is patently false as it exists in a published form with Leon as the credited author.


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