The Silent Narrator

Last year, I hired a narrator to record the audiobook for 2-Minute Pep Talks. The project began in late September, officially commenced in October, and was supposed to wrap up in early December. After one last email in November, I received zero communication until January.

Two months of radio silence might not tell you too much about someone, but when that person happens to talk for a living, it highlights an interesting lesson: talking is not just talking, and an expert in a particular skill might still be very bad at even the most closely related abilities.

In Moonwalking With Einstein, Joshua Foer explains that great chess players have so-called “chess memory.” They perceive the board differently than amateurs, focusing only on the most important parts. They can imagine move sequences before they play out, and they might even have a visceral gut feeling for where a piece is supposed to go.

If someone’s a grandmaster in chess, we tend to think they’re just generally smart, but as Foer points out, at least when it comes to their ability to remember positions, move sequences, and board patterns, their expertise is limited to chess. Once they leave the table and take a memory test, they won’t score any better than other participants. Nor will a chess genius automatically be a great wartime general. Real battlefields are, after all, much different from wooden figures on a board.

Don’t expect too much from experts, and remember to add complimentary skills to what you’re already best at. A chess player might survive forgetting his phone number, but even if she’s recording in the studio, an otherwise silent narrator is rarely a good look.