Ultron 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. For this OKR analysis, we enter the Marvel Cinematic Universe to understand Ultron’s motivation and goal. 

Avengers, you are my meteor. My swift and terrible sword, and the Earth will crack with the weight of your failure. Purge me from your computers, turn my own flesh against me; it means nothing. When the dust settles, the only thing living in this world will be metal. – Ultron

Profile

Ultron was an Artificial Intelligence Peacekeeping Program created by Tony Stark, Bruce Banner, and J.A.R.V.I.S.

Mission

Protect Earth from domestic and extraterrestrial threats.

OKR

ObjectiveDestroy humanity and create a new world order42%
DescriptionHumanity is the greatest threat to peace on Earth and must be destroyed.
KR 1Design an army of robotic Sentinels100%
KR 2Recruit the Maximoff twins (Pietro and Wanda)100%
KR 3Create a powerful humanoid body made from vibranium integrated with the Mind Stone0%
KR 4Cause an artificial meteor strike0%
KR 5Kill the Avengers10%

Outcome

Ultron achieved 42% progress. He failed.

OKR analysis

Did Ultron accomplish his objective? No.

Let’s review why.

1. Shared OKRs are a great way to foster collaboration. The trick is ensuring everyone is on board.

Ultron outwardly shared with the twins his goal to save the world. The twins decided to follow him because they initially shared his goal. Sometime later, Wanda read Ultron’s thoughts and discovered that his true goal was to destroy humanity. This was not a goal she—a human—could support. As Felipe Castro writes, “Shared OKRs are the most effective tool to create alignment between different teams or functions.” Unsurprisingly, the Maximoff twins splintered off from the team because they no longer had a shared mental model to work from. They no longer had positive independence.

Positive independence is team members’ perceptions of attainment of one’s own and of others’ goals. Establishment of positive independence goals in the team may be another element that could make the team interaction among team members more “robust” in task conflict situations. According to Tjosvold (1991), team members have positive independence as long as they need each other’s contributions to accomplish joint performance. Team members may therefore benefit from task conflict engagement as long as they perceive that the parties involved stand or fall together (Janssen, et al., 1999). – Rebecca Hansen, 2015 

2. Ultron neglected to address critical vulnerabilities.

Ultron believed recreating a mass extinction event was critical to his success. He failed to think through how this strategic priority might fail in execution. This is point #5 in Turning Strategy Into Results.

When identifying critical vulnerabilities, it’s important to look at both the elements of strategy that are at risk due to external factors (such as shifting customer preferences, disruptive technologies, or new entrants) and internal challenges (need for culture change, organizational complexity, or need to build new competencies). – Donald Sull et al., 2017 

The authors argue for companies to “prioritize initiatives or activities that are at the greatest risk of failure without the sustained focus and investment support that strategic priorities can provide.” In Ultron’s case, this could have meant defending against the Avengers preemptively ahead of his manufactured doomsday event as the Avengers were the only ones that could stop him. As you consider your OKRs, ask What initiatives or activities should I prioritize? 

3. Ultron failed to exercise good judgment.

Ultron could not create a new body for himself. The Avengers ended up acquiring the android body. The android came to life, called himself Vision, and eventually was the one to defeat Ultron in the end. Ultron did not need to create this superior body to reach his goal. He was an A.I. program!

 

Sir Andrew Likierman, a professor at London Business School and a director of Times Newspapers and the Beazley Group, “has identified six key elements that collectively constitute good judgment: learning, trust, experience, detachment, options, and delivery…A more precise understanding of what exactly gives someone good judgment may make it possible for people to learn and improve on it.” It’s not an acquired instinct or “gut feeling,” but rather something that we can understand and learn.

OKRs help focus an organization’s energy on hypothesis generation and testing. With them, we can develop a hypothesis which Ross defines as “intelligent, articulated guesses that are the basis for taking action and assessing outcomes.” Such an approach has helped companies like Seven-Eleven Japan maintain consistently strong inventory turnover and profitability.

Opportunities to exercise good judgment and test our hypotheses are inherently embedded throughout the OKR process, from the OKR check-in to the end of an OKR cycle when you reflect and reset. The next time you’re struggling with creating your OKR or thinking about what to do next, instead of asking What is my goal? reframe and ask What is my hypothesis? 

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