Xin Qiji (辛弃疾) may well be the most underrated historical figure of the Song Dynasty. Xin is considered one of the most talented Chinese poets in history, with 620 of his poems still in existence today. But poetry was not his only talent.
During the Southern Song Dynasty (1127– 1279), he also exhibited strong military intelligence that benefited his army. Xin began his military career when he led a small insurgency against the much powerful Juren, then still regarded as barbarians.
Xin’s small victories were recognized by the Southern Song Emperor, who agreed to have the army fight alongside him in order for them to effectively annihilate the enemy.
At this point, Xin’s partner Geng Jing was assassinated by a friend-turned-traitor named Zhang Anguo. Commanding a group of 50 men, Xin successfully penetrated Zhang’s camp and captured him. His feat gained him a position in the Emperor’s court.
Since the Emperor’s advisers preferred appeasement over warfare with the Juren, Xin was sidelined and relegated to doing menial tasks that never amounted to anything or contributed anything significant.
His poet friend Lu You dedicated a poem to him, lamenting how his skills went to waste. For Lu, Xin was a classic example of dàcái xiǎoyòng (大材大用). Xin could have become a fine military commander, but his skills were not used effectively.
Sports & Film
The Chinese idiom literally means using a great material for something small. Imagine cutting a log and turning it into toothpicks, or using a sledge hammer just to crack open a walnut. It is a metaphor for misusing great talent.
It is not uncommon to find gifted athletes playing only a few minutes of each game, coming off the bench to relieve the star player. Nor is it a surprise to find talented actors cast as very minor supporting characters.
The few minutes and small roles do not justify their talents. But without much exposure, they may never get the break they deserve. And then their market value plummets and critics call them the underrated.
In the corporate setting or any organization for that matter, the misuse of talent leads to an unhappy and unsatisfied workforce.
For the longest time, a good friend of mine worked as a warehouse supervisor for an advertising company. He managed the inventory of the materials the company uses in its projects. It was a boring job and certainly not an environment for cultivating his real skill—selling. My friend is a natural sales man and could have done more good for the company as account executive.
Two years ago, he was transferred to the sales department after the company reshuffled its people. He was initially apprehensive. It was a natural reaction since warehouse management had become his comfort zone. Then he closed one institutional account after another, bringing in millions and millions of pesos. He now takes great pride in what he does.
Reuben Gutoff saw the same thing in Jack Welch, the CEO and chairman of General Electric Company (GE) from 1981 to 2001.
Welch may have thought GE did not value him that much when the company gave him a measly US$1,000 pay raise. Gutoff, who was two positions higher than Welch, figured Welch was too valuable to lose to GE’s competitor. So Gutoff convinced him to stay with the company. And Welch stayed.
Years later, he successfully climbed the corporate ladder of GE, became its youngest CEO and chairman, and turned GE’s market value from US$14 billion to US$410 billion.
Welch’s case is the opposite of dàcái xiǎoyòng. His management prowess was used to its full potential and the company reaped the reward.
He is a case of dàcái dàyòng or, literally, great talent used for big things.
Print ed: 11/11