Potential is when you can accelerate faster than your environment can

I was once hiring members for a specialist team to work on a complicated problem. It was the kind of problem where you couldn't just hire a person because they didn't exist. You had to take a chance on someone and then train them to be what you needed.

We hired a candidate who had a very open mind and a strong willingness to learn, but was less detail-oriented than most of the other candidates. After a period of on-the-job training, he started to settle into a middle of the pack ranking. There were a few other peers ahead of him and a few behind him.

Then he started to learn how to code. Coding was not required as a specialist, nor was it specifically endorsed. He simply liked coding and wanted to get better at it. Soon he was writing scripts, querying data, and building helpful tools for the entire team. He became the go-to person for assistance and nearly every project used something he had written.

Before long, he started emerging as the most leverageable member of the team. We realized that although he wasn't the best performer, he was one of the most valuable. We decided to expand his role to include more engineering and greater organizational reach. His acceleration was faster than the environment we had initially given him. In this sense, we were only following the trajectory that he himself had put in place.