Sometimes, the best bench player in the league cannot be a starter. He’s at his ceiling.

Sometimes, a middling bench player can become an all-star starter.

This is what makes talent identification so hard. Sometimes A players in a role are maxed out, and if they get promoted to a bigger role, they flop. They were already at their global maximum.

Other A players have many levels left before they stop being A players. They’re at their local maximum in their current role, but have a much higher global maximum.

But the harder part are those playing at a B level in role 1, who when moved to more difficult role 2 become A players. How are you supposed to spot that?

It’s a weird thing. You might see the fifth-best cashier end up becoming a great manager at the grocery store, where the top three cashiers could never cut it. The best player on the high school basketball team is probably a smaller point guard who works hard but has already pushed his body to its limits, while the slightly less polished and aggressive big man who has another five years of physical development left might go on to play in college.

People with high potential tend to have a lot of pride and work ethic, and they tend to find things they’re good at quickly, so it’s rare to find a really awful or persistently weak person in a role who has big upside elsewhere. But it’s not at all uncommon to find a good but not great person in one role who has a higher global maximum than the best at that role.

Traits for role success aren’t always the same as traits for life success. There’s a difference between how high you go in a role or phase vs how many roles or phases you can make it through.

It’s for this reason that I don’t get as excited about domain expertise as general potential. Someone operating near a local maximum is cool, but I’m always more interested in people who have the largest global maximum. Sure, you beat level 4 with no damage and max bonus points. But how many more levels do you have in you?