I've been reading "Thinking Fast and Slow" by Daniel Kahneman and came upon a piece that resonated with me and echoed experiences I have had while working on stunt-driven features.
It has stuck with me because it is an eloquent explanation of an internal thought process when working on high stress problems. Often, it seems a vital piece of equipment will break, or have some unpredictable hiccup, right at the time when a major stunt is set to occur. The camera or support will not work as the stunt van is set on fire, the hero is hanging off a cliff or some other such high stress and time-sensitive scenario is underway. In these moments, production budgets run into numbers like $25,000/minute and failure to move forward can be costly. There is an interesting comparison here in observing experienced firefighters.
Kahneman quotes a colleague, Gary Klein:
The initial hypothesis was that commanders would restrict their analysis to only a pair of options, but that hypothesis proved to be incorrect. In fact, the commanders usually generated only a single option, and that was all they needed. They could draw on the repertoire of patterns that they had compiled during more than a decade of both real and virtual experience to identify a plausible option, which they considered first. They evaluated this option by mentally simulating it to see if it would work in the situation they were facing—a process that deGroot (1946/1978) had described as progressive deepening. If the course of action they were considering seemed appropriate, they would implement it. If it had shortcomings, they would modify it. If they could not easily modify it, they would turn to the next most plausible option and run through the same procedure until an acceptable course of action was found. This recognition-primed decision (RPD) strategy was effective because it took advantage of the commanders’ tacit knowledge (Klein et al., 1986). The fireground commanders were able to draw on their repertoires to anticipate how flames were likely to spread through a building, to notice signs that a house was likely to collapse, to judge when to call for additional support, and to make many other critical decisions.
I can recognize this process in my own experience with troubleshooting camera equipment. The stakes are admittedly far lower than in life-saving scenarios but the stress is still high. These things tend to happen so quickly that one does not observe one's own mind while going through it. Stumbling upon this apt description pleased me and helped me describe to people what it can be like to work in high pressure situations and the excitement and satisfaction of solving problems quickly.