Natasha Romanoff's OKR in Black Widow: Heroes of OKR
"I was trying to actually do something good to make up for all the pain and suffering that we caused. Trying to be more than just a trained killer."
―Natasha Romanoff to Yelena Belova
Name: Natasha Romanoff (Наташа Романов), AKA Black Widow
Credentials: Red Room Graduate, Ex-KGB operative, ex-S.H.I.E.L.D. agent
Personality: Dynamic, stoic, adaptive, pragmatic, tactical, manipulative, intelligent
Counteract years of killing and havoc-wreaking missions
|Objective||Confront the events of the haunted past||87.5%|
|Description||Natasha is an international fugitive for violating the Sokovia Accords. She can run from General Ross, but not her past, learning Dreykov is still alive and conspiring.|
|KR 1||Find the source of the antidote vials in Budapest||100%|
|KR 2||Locate the Red Room and Dreykov||100%|
|KR 3||Neutralize Dreykov’s control of the Black Widow network||100%|
|KR 4||Remain a fugitive, free from General Ross’s capture||50%|
|Task||Free her surrogate father, supersoldier Alexei Shostakov, from prison||Complete|
|Task||Find her surrogate mother, Black Widow Melina Vostokoff||Complete|
|Task||Save Taskmaster, AKA Dreykov’s cyborg daughter Antonia||Complete|
Black Widow shows us a common heroic trope: thinking you can run from the past, only for it to catch up to you at the most inconvenient of times. As an ex-KGB operative and frontwoman for S.H.I.E.L.D., Natasha has plenty of demons to catch up to her:
- Her surrogate sister and Black Widow Yelena Belova, wonders why Natasha never came back for her after they were separated following their parents' Ohio operation for Dreykov.
- Her surrogate father, Alexei, and mother, Melina, placed Natasha and her sister in Dreykov’s control, whom she has many questions and inquiries for.
- A previously thought-dead rival in Dreykov, the man who controls the Black Widows, and his daughter-turned-cyborg Antonia (AKA Taskmaster) who Natasha thought she killed as collateral damage on her mission to kill Dreykov for S.H.I.E.L.D.
Ultimately, Natasha makes amends with her surrogate family and frees the Black Widows under Dreykov’s control. With the help of her family, Natasha (technically Yelena) ends Dreykov’s life and frees Antonia from his control, bringing closure to Natasha’s haunted past.
OKR Analysis — What We Can Learn From Black Widow
Key Result 1: You can’t do it all by yourself
The Black Widow film begins with the back story of Natasha’s surrogate family running an operation for Dreykov in Ohio. This opening storyline is immediately contrasted by present-day Natasha, fleeing from General Ross for violating the Sokovia Accords.
Natasha thinks she can go into hiding alone. Stay undetected, alone. Survive, alone. Yet Taskmaster quickly shows us that Natasha’s psychology is wrong:
Unknowingly carrying the antidote vials sent from her surrogate sister, Yelena, Natasha becomes the subject of Taskmaster’s stalking — the antidote is the only thing that can stop Dreykov from unleashing worldwide terror through the Black Widow network.
Natasha doesn’t know her Objective at this point is to stop Dreykov (she thinks he’s still dead), but she has to get some answers about the antidote vials. As an expert executioner, she completes KR1 when she locates her sister in Budapest and gets the full back story on the vials.
After the reunion/fight/escape with her sister in Budapest, Natasha realizes that she can’t keep going it alone. She’s going to need her sister and eventually, her family, to help stop Dreykov.
This is a lesson in Adaptation 101. At every level of the organization — entry-level employee, manager, or executive — it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking we can solve our problems by ourselves. In especially hierarchical organizations, workloads and communication fall into silos, with individuals pushing forward on disconnected initiatives.
Natasha, as the fully competent Black Widow-turned-Avenger she is, could have stormed off from Budapest with the arrogance of the modern-day hero. Yet, she swallows her pride and asks her sister for help in hunting down Dreykov. Without her sister, she can’t accomplish her first two critical tasks — locating her surrogate father and mother.
Key Result 2: Play Chess, Not Checkers
If you haven’t watched Black Widow, here’s a summary of the next 30 minutes in the film from KR1:
Natasha and Yelena break their father Alexei out of a Russian prison (Task 1). Then he tells the sisters they must locate their mother, Black Widow Melina (Task 2). Melina is still unenthusiastically loyal to Dreykov, which sets up the epic final event when Melina “betrays” her family by alerting the Red Room of their location (her home).
Now, in the audience’s perspective, Melina is a traitor to her former husband and daughters. However, Natasha and Melina are secretly orchestrating a plan that requires Alexei and Yelena to be ignorant of the truth. See, the Red Room is impossible to locate because it’s not a real location — it’s an aerial facility. Nobody is consciously brought in or out of the Red Room that isn’t being brainwashed by Dreykov.
Therefore, the only way to get to the Red Room is by capture from a loyalist, i.e. Melina “capturing” her family and bringing them to the Red Room.
Given the sheer power of their family — Alexei’s super strength, the combat force of three Black Widows — they would die trying in their attempt to defend themselves. Natasha and Melina decide to play chess, not checkers.
Strategy is having power and knowing when to use it. If you’re a product-led organization, just because you CAN ship a new feature doesn’t mean it’s the right time or environment to do so. Strategic planning is dependent on timing just as much as execution. Sometimes, it’s better to be patient than to flood your organization or market with new actions.
At this point in the plot, all of the family is transported to the Red Room, ready to execute Phase 2 of the secret plan.
Key Result 3: Collaboration & Trust
The point of Natasha’s pursuit of Dreykov isn’t pure revenge: it’s to free the Black Widows under his control. Both Natasha and her sister Yelena went through the horrors of the Red Room to become killers, having any chance at a normal life stripped away. For Natasha, it’s about justice for the other Black Widows.
As much as Natasha wants to control the situation, she has to trust her family to play their role in helping her stop Dreykov.
For her mother, Natasha trades places using face mask technology to mimic her mother, allowing her to get into Dreykov’s control room (although Dreykov foils this disguise). As Natasha prepares to fight Dreykov, she is inhibited by his chemical manipulation through a pheromone lock, where she can’t attack Dreykov if she smells him.
However, this serves as the second element of collaboration and trust from her mother, who informs Natasha before the Red Room invasion of the pheromone lock and how to bypass it: by severing the nasal passage nerve. This plan works, and Natasha attacks Dreykov before being swarmed by Black Widows.
For her father, he must fend off Taskmaster as Yelena and Melina coordinate to take down the Red Room’s engines keeping it afloat.
For Yelena, Natasha trusts her skills as a Black Widow to escape from capture and assist the team. She obtains the antidote vials and saves Natasha when she is being beaten down by the Black Widows. This allows Natasha to complete KR3, uploading a chip that captures the location of the entire Black Widow network.
Final Tasks: Kill Dreykov and Save Taskmaster
Lesson: Staying true to what’s right when it’s hard
Natasha gets her final shot at redeeming her past during the escape of the Red Room. As she’s sprinting out, she encounters Taskmaster locked in a cell. Where Dreykov could have cared less about Antonia (Taskmaster), Natasha frees her from the cell so she can escape the facility alive, in hopes that Antonia will understand that Natasha never wanted to kill her all those years ago.
When our OKRs aren’t going as planned, there’s the urge to manipulate the data in our favor:
- Adjusting Key Results to soften your aspirational targets, faking performance
- Saying “this OKR was just poorly written” or ignoring the OKR entirely
- Tossing your OKRs in the trash and starting again next quarter
Owning your shortcomings, whether in life or OKRs, is the first step in fixing them.
I’m not here to debate the morality of an action film’s hero. Natasha has been on both ends of the scale. However, her character development sees her staying true to her Objective: Confront the events of the haunted past. She stares down the danger and discomfort of her past, rather than letting Taskmaster perish in the exploding ship.
In the following scene, Natasha narrowly escapes the exploding Red Room when she encounters Yelena pursuing Dreykov, who is attempting to escape on a plane. Natasha doesn’t achieve Task 3, Kill Dreykov; Yelena does it for her.
In the final fight scene, Natasha neutralizes Taskmaster long enough to expose her to the antidote. Natasha achieves her final task, before being captured by General Ross and coming up short on KR4 (although in the final scene, Natasha is seen two weeks later on her way to free the Avengers).
You don’t have to be a superhero to save day and crush your OKRs. Learn how John McClane overcame being the wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time.