The mobile offshore drilling unit Q4000 holds position directly over the damaged Deepwater Horizon blowout preventer as crews work to plug the well head using a technique known as "top kill," May 26, 2010.
Image Credit: Coast Guard, Petty Officer 3rd Class Ann Marie Gorden
Top Kill entered the world's vocabulary early in the Gulf Oil Spill/Disaster. In case you have forgotten, What is 'top kill' and when will we know if it plugs BP oil spill? explains the concept was to pump mud into the oil well faster than it was flowing out. Eventually BP and the U.S. Government would 'double' the bet by adding a 'junk shot' which included cut up tires, golf balls, and heaven knows what else.
You probably have not forgotten it didn't work. Product designers were watching the rescue effort and grimacing because although none had used the name top kill before, most had tried something similar to fix a show-stopping problem. Usually we call it, Long Shot, because the odds of success are not overwhelming. Still, we attempt it because the methodical solution is going to be painful and lengthy. In some situations it is because we don't know what else we can do.
There are appropriate times for a long shot - like just before the buzzer sounds. At other times, we are just delaying the real work that needs to be done. Or even making the problem worse. Non product designers also attempt top kills with everything from their home repairs to relationships. But it is tough - knowing when to attempt a top kill (after all, sometimes you can score a goal from midcourt) and when to apply discipline and work the problem conventionally.
I wish everyone a prosperous and happy new year. And from my favorite Miller Lite commercial from the 70s, 'may there be bass under all your lily pads.'