Jack Torrance and his OKR

What do iconic fictional villains have in common? They always lose in the end. In our Villains of OKR series we will analyze the mistakes in their strategy execution and learn from their failures through an OKRs lens.

“Now, we’re going to make a new rule. When you come in here and you hear me typing or whether you don’t hear me typing, or whatever the f**k you hear me doing; when I’m in here, it means that I am working, that means don’t come in. Now, do you think you can handle that?” – Jack Torrance to his wife, Wendy

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Villain Profile

Name: Jack Torrance, husband to Wendy Torrance and son to Danny

Credentials: Recovering alcoholic, aspiring writer, questionably reincarnated spirit

Personality: introverted, troubled, explosive, erratic

Mission

Move on from his past troubles with alcohol and abuse to create a better life.

OKR

Objective Write a play to kick off his career 8.3%
Description Being physically and mentally isolated is a great recipe for creative writing, right?
KR 1 Create a focused, distraction-free work environment 25%
KR 2 Restrain his inner demons (alcoholism and abuse) 0%
KR 3 Prevent being possessed by evil spirits 0%
Task Kill wife, Wendy Failed
Task Kill son, Danny Failed

OKR Analysis

Theme: Jack’s Key Results shift over the course of the film, not by definition, but by context. He transforms from questionable protagonist to deteriorating madman as the film progresses, but why? Jack loses sight of his Objective because he fails to focus on what matters.

Jack cannot make progress on the crucial KR1 — create a focused environment — ultimately undermining his entire Objective. Along with failing KR1, three factors prevent Jack from accomplishing his Objective:

  1. Jack’s obligations to overseeing the Overlook Hotel distract from KR1
  2. Jack succumbing to his alcoholism results in the failure of KR2
  3. Being possessed by spirits (failing KR3) helps none of these pursuits

Let’s evaluate Jack’s shortcomings on his OKR.

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He should’ve known that evil spirits are not team players

KR1 begins with Jack attempting to focus himself by taking the contract to caretake for the Overlook Hotel. The lifeblood of this Key Result is Jack’s self-accountability. We see his Key Result shift context from creating a productive environment free of distraction to destroying his environment due to distraction — attempted murder on his family.

The breaking point of this Key Result happens when Jack snaps on Wendy in the Colorado Lounge for interrupting his focus, even though we see that Jack’s distractions are largely self-imposed.

Jack can’t see or admit this fault to himself, instead shifting his focus (and Key Result) to eliminating his distractions via murder. We can chalk this one up to evil spiritual possession. But, for at least attempting to create a solid work environment by taking a new job, we’ll give Jack 25% on KR1 for effort.

He didn’t create a plan for improvement

KR2 begins falling apart the minute Jack accepts the role as the hotel’s caretaker, but the obvious failure comes later in the film. A defeated Jack sits with the spirit-world bartender Lloyd at the dry bar and requests a drink.

While the film follows the influence of external demons on Jack’s character, this scene shows Jack officially giving in to his inner demon — alcoholism.

The failure to create a writing plan set Jack up for failure. KR2 becomes an inhibitor instead of an instrument of success. Jack’s former struggles with alcoholism tie directly with the domestic abuse he committed in his past.

Rather than confront his weakness through the film, he insists on avoiding it. Jack’s execution on KR2 is sadly laughable. He does little in the way to improve his mental health and satisfaction with his own life, which are tasks that could have contributed to his success with this Key Result and the greater Objective.

He neglected all of his demons, inside and out

We interpret Jack’s inability to conquer his inner demons as the reason the hotel’s spirits become influential. While there is no blueprint to avoiding demonic/spiritual possession, Jack’s lacking integrity made him an easy target.

Jack is a testament to neglect. Pretending problems aren’t there — the physical abuse of his son, the verbal abuse of his wife, his scandalous encounter with the spirit from Room #237 — is Jack’s specialty.

The real problem? Jack was never focused on the right obligations to begin with. All work and no play might make Jack a dull boy, but he was all play from the beginning.

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When Jack shrugged off the hotel being haunted at the beginning, he let the spirits become a distraction. They blocked his ability to write. They persuaded him to murder his family. They broke down his mental health by homing in on his inner demons. Jack shifts his focus from his physical obligations — caretaking and writing — to the spirits’ obligations.

Jack giving in to having a drink with the spirit bartender, Lloyd, is his character’s shining moment of truth. This officially confirms Jack is fully persuaded by the spirits. Later the hotel’s former butler Grady (who committed murder-suicide in the hotel), suggests that Jack has to “correct” his wife and son’s actions by murdering his family.  

What We Can Learn from The Shining

Focus and self-awareness (or lack thereof) are the central themes we can take from The Shining . Had Jack improved in these areas, his Objective might have stood a better chance.

Two powerful fallacies occur in The Shining that translate directly to the workplace:

  1. Business-as-usual busy work distracting from the primary focus
  2. Failing to regularly check-in on goals

Busy ≠ Effective

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Jack is a reactive character. Aside from taking a new job that was supposed to set him up for success, we see him reacting to everything in his environment. Teams who fail to align with OKRs also struggle with this reactionary tendency. Business and workflows will become chaotic, but OKRs are a focusing point amidst the chaos. “I’m too busy with X to focus on Y,” where Y actually matters, becomes the logical crutch that misaligned teams lean on.

Jack fails to construct a writing plan, which should have been his primary focus. He used his responsibility of taking care of the hotel as an excuse to justify his inactions, or rather his inadequacy, as a writer. He blamed his wife and son for distracting him from his work. He went as far as to gaslight his wife when she suggested that the hotel was toxic for their family.

Has it ever occurred to you that I have agreed to look after the Overlook Hotel until May the First?! Does it matter to you at all that the owners have placed their complete confidence and trust in me, and that I have signed a letter of agreement, a contract, in which I have accepted that responsibility? Do you have the slightest idea what a moral and ethical principle is? Do you? Has it ever occurred to you what would happen to my future, if I were to fail to live up to my responsibilities? Has it ever occurred to you? Has it? – Jack to Wendy

This doesn’t sound like a focus on what matters. Jack was too busy with the hotel to be effective with writing.

Check-In’s are for more than the doctor

This principle is synonymous with “Busy ≠ Effective.” Jack went on a reactive binge to his environment. The beautiful thing about OKRs or any effective goal-setting methodology? You can course correct.

You can check in with your Objective to see how your process is performing. You can adapt tasks to make better progress on Key Results and your overall Objective.

Jack failed to create a writing plan. He could have checked in with his goal to create that plan.

Jack became distracted by the hotel obligations. He could have checked in to shift his focus.

He set a dangerous precedent that too many organizations fall victim to. He drummed up a grand Objective and was inspired to take action. Then he forgot about his Objective once he started working. Setting quarterly goals is great. They don’t matter if you or your teams fail to check in and align with these goals.

OKRs don’t work because you set them at the beginning of the quarter and forget about them. They operate as a meditation and methodology, a daily guide to make sure you’re focused on what matters. Had Jack checked in with his Objective throughout the film, as all effective OKR systems have us do, we might have been spared the lapse in Jack’s character that made The Shining an iconic film.

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Your organization’s alignment on goals may not be a life or death matter like Jack’s in The Shining . But your teams operating without a united focus on what matters is like Jack at the end of the film: stuck in the maze, walking nowhere, with no idea how to get out.

Don’t let your organization get caught in a self-created maze. Learn how to start with OKRs here .

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