Pin the Credit on Someone Else

Let loose your favorite search engine on the phrase “pin the blame.” Wikipedia alone will serve you up thousands of examples, like this, from their entry on The Bourne Identity:

While in reality it was the U.S. government who took Marie captive, it has pinned the blame on a fictitious powerful Chinese drug lord…

It’s a common enough phrase that we don’t think about it much. But on reflection, it has two implications:

  1. the verb “pin”—to narrow down, narrow in on, focus, sharpen, highlight, single out, point to
  2. the object “blame”—guilt, condemnation, disapproval, (negative) responsibility, culpability, fault, shame

Basically: to bring down on another a concentrated dose of social pressure as being the primary cause of something really bad.

Pinning the Credit.

So I’m in the car the other day (pulled over—don’t tweet and drive), in the midst of a twit-up with social media columnist Rebecca Woodhead (@rebeccawoodhead). She had quoted Chris Brogan, another social media consultant, to a client, which had the effect of convincing the client to do what Brogan had suggested–which happened to be what Rebecca herself had been telling the client for some time, to no avail

Full of good British humor about it, she jested, “I guess I should have thought to pin the credit on Brogan earlier.”

Pin the credit. I love it. Puts it right up there with “fancy a cheeky pint?” in my list of favorite Briticisms.

And higher still in my list of wisdom-bites. Pin the credit:to divert to another a concentrated dose of social approval for being the primary cause of something really good.

Pinning the Credit, Reciprocity, and Collaboration

A willingness to pin the credit on another is a deceptively simple way to achieve several goals. First, as Rebecca’s example perfectly shows, it can often get things done faster, breaking a logjam by bringing in a third party or an appeal to authority.

Second, it signals a willingness to subordinate your own ego, something as valuable as it is rare in consultative and sales and support people. The client picks up that signal very clearly.

Third, it signals something to the credited party too. It says you recognize and value them, and that you’re willing to do them a favor. And favors invite reciprocal favors.

Fourth, that whole favor-giving thing requires a time perspective longer than the transaction at hand. By showing you’re willing to play that game, you suggest a multitude of ways to work together going forward. You can collaborate.

Pinning the credit shows you are polite, you can defer gratification, you are not in the game for your own ego, you can be trusted to collaborate because you’re in it for the long haul.

A powerful three words, I’d say.

4 replies
  1. Philip J. McGee
    Philip J. McGee says:

    As a young salesman for Xerox we were always thrilled when the customer implied that we hadn’t sold them anything, that they were just filling a need that they had identified.  I guess you could call that "pinning the credit".

  2. Jim Monk
    Jim Monk says:

    Hoo boy — there seems to be a disconnect between the message "pin the credit" and the lack of careful editing, which would seem to be a "pin the blame" issue.

  3. Shaula
    Shaula says:

    Charlie, I just read an interesting article that reminded me of this post on pin the credit, which I’ve been meaning to come back to for some time.

    I agree with you that that Rebecca Woodhead’s coinage of “pinning the credit” is great: it’s a catchy phrase for giving away credit or giving credit to someone else.

    At the same time, I find the story horrifying. Neither your post nor your commenters seem to acknowledge the fact that Woodhead is NOT talking about a situation where she’s giving credit to a team member or a contributor–an active participant. Instead, she’s talking about a situation where, as a professional woman, her advice is ignored, and not taken seriously until the same idea is attributed to a man instead, at which point it becomes valid.

    “Pinning the credit” onto someone else, specifically a man, in that kind of situation is a short-term strategy, because ultimately it plays into and reinforces the thinking that good ideas come exclusively from men (not women, not Woodhead), and it undercuts the ability of Woodhead specifically and women in general to be taken seriously and be effective in the workplace.

    How can we deal with this in the workplace?
    1. Be generous with *earned* credit. When someone is an active participant, by all means give them credit.

    2. Be good allies. When someone, such as Rebecca Woodhead in the example in your post, hides their contribution behind someone else (whether the power dynamics are about sex or race or age/seniority or nepotism or another factor), make clear to your team / your client / your managers who really deserves the credit.

    3. Surely there’s some version of Name it and Claim it here: if you regularly work with someone who refuses to recognize contributions from specific people, look for an effective way to call them out on their blind spot and address it productively.

    4. Recognize that workplace power dynamics mean that some people are marginalized and erased. Don’t celebrate this. Understand that it’s a problem. See that short-term strategies for dealing with this still contribute to longer-term problems. Look for real and meaningful solutions.

    Oh, and the post that triggered my comment today is worth a read as well. It’s called Your work, but his name, and it talks about a variation of the phenomenon of “in meetings no one notices my remark, but when a male says it, it is taken seriously”–a category in which I’d put Rebecca Woodhead’s anecodote, too. The comments on the article so far are also interesting.

  4. Charles H. Green
    Charles H. Green says:


    Thanks as usual for raising the already-high level of insight on Trust Matters’ ongoing commentary. Though in this case, I want to take a little issue.

    First, though, may I recommend that everyone read the item Shaula cites,

    It is quite good, and is a great illustration of Shaula’s point.

    On the other hand, Shaula, in the particular Rebecca Woodhead example, how do you distinguish her citation of Brogan as distinct from the general practice of quoting others?

    Substitute me (male) in into the feministphilosophers case as the one who was ignored, and you still have a case for moral outrage. I have no doubt it’s worse for women, which is partly the point of that blog, but it is more than a feminist case alone; it rests on an injustice, the attribution of work done to someone who didn’t do it, while ignoring one who in fact DID do it. It’s akin to plagiarism–and very likely plagiarism aggravated by sexism.

    But substitute me for Rebecca Woodhead, and it’s far less clear. If I say something and people don’t accept it, but I then quote Shakespeare, or Henry Kissinger, or Malcolm Gladwell to the same effect, it not only isn’t sexist, it also isn’t egregious on purely intellectual grounds. All it points to is the moral foible of people being susceptible to fame; which is why movie stars used to so effectively pitch cigarettes and soap on TV. Quote someone more famous than you to the same effect, and hey it influences other human beings. (Picture someone eons ago saying, “From the same dairy that Cleopatra gets her bath milk from!” I know, no cows, but you get my drift).

    “Rebecca Woodhead” generates 14,400 hits on Google search; “Chris Brogan,” 1,100,000. Hey I quote Brogan too–he’s more famous than I am. That’s why anyone quotes anyone, that’s why we have Bartlett’s book of famous quotations, that’s why people name-drop.

    The feministphilosopher case seems a close variant of plagiarism–consciously or unconsciously giving credit to someone who did not say the thing attributed to them. But Woodhead is just quoting someone more famous than she who happens to have said “the same thing,” but quite independently. No one is claiming, and no one believes, that Brogan ripped off Woodhead, least of all Woodhead herself.

    Am I missing something?


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *