John Doe from Se7en 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. 

“Wanting people to listen, you can’t just tap them on the shoulder anymore. You have to hit them with a sledgehammer, and then you’ll notice you’ve got their strict attention.” – John Doe

Villain Profile

Name: John Doe (unidentified name)

Credentials: Inventive torturer, professional escapee, exponential strength and speed

Personality: calculated, disturbed, meticulous, questionably insane


Demonstrate society’s corruption through the lens of the seven deadly sins


ObjectiveEnsure a gruesome murder happens that’s symbolic of each deadly sin100%
Description“We see a deadly sin on every street corner, in every home, and we tolerate it… well, not anymore. I’m setting the example.”
KR 1Murder 6 people who represent 6 deadly sins: gluttony, greed, sloth, lust, pride, and envy100%
KR 2Convince the detectives to accompany him to uncover the buried bodies100%
KR 3Manipulate Detective Mills to murder him for the final deadly sin, wrath100%
TaskDecapitate Detective Mills’s wife, TracySucceeded
TaskGet arrested in the police stationSucceeded

When we started the Villains of OKR series, we believed that iconic fictional villains had one thing in common: they always lost in the end. For John Doe in Se7en , success is an arbitrary idea. HIs goal? Have someone murdered in a style that represents their deadly sin. 

Throwing back to our Villains of OKR on Thanos, what did it cost him? Everything (his life). Was John Doe successful? That’s what his OKR results tell us. Sometimes, we have to read between the lines to find the true meaning of success. John Doe executed his idea of the perfect plan. In one of the major twists of the movies, it seems that the original plan changes when he can no longer play the role of an idealistic murderer and becomes personally involved with one of the deadly sins.

Let’s look at John Doe’s OKR to answer a few questions: 

  • What was the method to John Doe’s madness?
  • Was John Doe having himself killed in a fit of wrath the original plan?
  • Was he actually successful if he lost his life?

John Doe went to OKR school

John Doe might have been insane to visualize the gruesome murders he put his victims through. His divine, yet diabolical, inspiration is not the reason he was successful in accomplishing his murders. Ideas are simply desires without the action behind them.

While John Doe didn’t have access to Gtmhub’s Whiteboard feature in 1995, he knew that tying ideas to an executable strategy was imperative for accomplishing his mission. John Doe went to OKR school, or some form of it soaked into his shrouded brain over a lifetime of trauma and deliberation. 

Five pillar ideas make up the foundation of John Doe’s mission:

1. Ideation

2. Alignment

3. Research

4. Strategy

5. Execution

John Doe begins with an idea about the world: people need to understand that it’s a broken place filled with sin. He formulates an OKR, creating an Objective aligned with that mission and Key Results that tie into his Objective: ensure a symbolic murder for each of the deadly sins. His research leads him to isolate an obese man that he plans to murder for the first sin, gluttony. 

Doe’s murder strategy represents the sin of his victim, which means isolating the victim, restraining him, and force-feeding him until he dies. As seen from the detectives’ point of view, Doe executes his strategy with painful intent, ultimately causing his victim’s stomach to hemorrhage and rupture.

How this applies to companies: Se7en shows the process of a killer with a clear strategy. John Doe ties an original thought to strategy, then executes that strategy with the core idea in mind. Without OKRs, organizations often fail to empower their team members from the beginning. No personal ties to idea generation = no vision or connection to the Objective = poor engagement from teams. John Doe, although mostly isolated in his approach, keeps clarity and engagement through OKRs.


John Doe anticipates disruption, even if it’s his own

The question that Se7en doesn’t explicitly answer concerns the purpose death of John Doe. He has himself arrested, driven to a deserted place with the detectives, and has himself killed after the detective discovers John Doe murdered his wife. For the film’s antagonist, death might not have been his original end goal . What was the disruptor?

Envy. The sixth deadly sin. The culprit? Detective Mills, the man with a normal life with his wife and a baby on the way. Doe admits this before revealing Mills’s wife, Tracy’s, severed head in a box to Mills in one of the film’s most iconic scenes.

All of John Doe’s previous murders, while purposely and premeditated, are of victims that don’t tie into Doe’s personal life. They don’t connect with one another either. They are purposefully random until John Doe catches himself experiencing envy .

While Doe ultimately dies at the hands of Mills, his original behavior suggests this might not have been the initial plan. John Doe is a character that is committed to his mission, even if he must be the victim of his own beliefs. Character flaw? Potentially. Or it makes him the most authentic and elevated victim of them all. He realized his own hypocrisy and imperfection as a human, unlike his victims.

While death may not be “success” for most villains or people, John Doe’s case is unique because he believes the material world we live in is inferior to death. Doe anticipates his own disruption and leverages it for his version of success.

How this applies to companies: Internal motivation and team management (hopefully) have nothing to do with murder in the real world. However, organizations can learn from John Doe’s commitment to authenticity and apply it in a way that doesn’t cost lives. Doe was committed to doing the wrong thing with murder. But he was committed because he believed in his Mission, albeit to a fault. 

Teams and individuals fail to commit to goals because they don’t have sight of the Objective or the Mission like John Doe did. OKRs align teams through What, Why, and How: What is our mission, Why is this Objective serving the Mission, and How are we going to get there through Key Results? John Doe knew and believed in his OKR — imagine the force of good companies could do if they have half of the personal engagement John Doe had (again, not for murder).

John Doe succeeded because he admitted his mistakes

He was calculated. Measured in his murders. Cold-blooded in his calculated execution. Even though he was a questionably insane human, John Doe had enough self-awareness and fortitude to own up to his shortcoming: envy. Had John Doe completed the final two murders on victims that were random, would he have been successful?

Not exactly. 

His mission was to demonstrate the world’s corruption via symbolic murder. John Doe completing the final murder on a victim that he researched and isolated would be simply be perceived as a serial killer spree. Not exactly what John Doe was intending.

Doe admitting to his envy and altering his game plan created a new window of opportunity to prove the idea behind his mission. 

Seven dead people murdered at the hands of John Doe? Victims

Six dead people with the seventh hanging in the balance based on the free choice of someone who isn’t John Doe? Proof . Or at least enough proof for John Doe to be a martyr for his mission.

Giving Detective Mills the burden of wrath proved to John Doe and the audience that to some degree, people can be consumed by the deadly sins to the point of no return. As Mills is taken away, we’re left with the idea he will never be the same. Although Doe manipulated the situation, Mills still had a choice in the matter and he defaulted to the sin.

How this applies to companies: John Doe’s self-admission was literally life or death. While teams will never share the same burden, they can learn from the changes that happened as a result of John Doe’s owning of his mistake (sinning via envy).

Ignoring a mistake or a fault simply amplifies the negative impact it can have at a later time. If Doe didn’t admit to himself that he violated his principle, he would be haunted with the idea that he taught the world nothing about its own corruption.

In organizations, individuals can never improve if they fear the repercussions of making mistakes. This negative team culture stems from a lack of transparency. Why? A solely output-based focus, hurting the culture because of the fear that it fosters. Mistakes are viewed as a damaging and harmful experience to the team. Less output = bad. Hurting efficiency = bad.

OKRs help promote transparency because each person on the team can understand how their work impacts their teammates’ work and the organization as a whole. These cross-functional teams, as a result, collaborate more openly and foster opportunities for team members to speak on struggles or challenges with tasks. 

Dialed in on outcomes through OKRs, individuals are given the freedom to make mistakes and own up to them openly because they don’t work in a culture that reprimands them for their process.

John Doe may have been a murderer, but…

As professionals, we can read between the gruesome lines and find value in the behavioral approach in some of John Doe’s actions. His process was rock solid. He was able to connect an idea to a strategy then follow through with that strategy repeatedly.

John Doe might have had a disturbing worldview, but his commitment to his beliefs (as horrifying as they may be) can teach us about the importance of connecting our company missions to the day-in, day-out routine. 

Follow this with a few moments of vulnerability and self-awareness, and you might be able to look past the gut-wrenching displays of violence and find the value of the no-name from Se7en .

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