The Usefulness of Being Human

Jennifer Sertl #a3r
5 min readMay 23


What separates us from artificial intelligence is our ability to have empathy, our ability to scenario plan, our ability to gain perspective, our ability to be curious and experience “awe.” I feel the need to talk more about the usefulness of being human.

One of the most profound talks I have heard is from Russell Ackoff who gives the clearest articulation of the limits of data. Like a vitamin, this is a message I listen to once a month and need the frequency to keep the message potent:

Data ->Information -> Knowledge ->Understanding -> Wisdom

This is a sliver of sliver of his insight: the distinction between doing things right vs. doing the right things. @GapinVoid Culture Design Group has an incredible infographic making a smilier point.

We all know from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance that answers can only get you so far. The real rub is asking the right questions. This moment is calling all of us to pause, slow down, reconsider what is most important and ask better questions.

The questions on my mind right now: how can I invest more time unplugging and being in the space between who I am am and who I hope to be?

One of the best ways I have been able to create this open space is the practice of journal writing. Here are three prompts I use regularly:

The first practice is called “Plus + / Delta Δ”.

The discipline of “Plus + / Delta Δ” invites you to write, once a week, a situation that you are proud of — where you describe the situation (context), the task at hand (what you were required to do), the actions you took (choices you made), and the result. In this exercise you also write, once a week, a situation that you wished for a do-over. Thus the delta Δ — which is the symbol for change. You follow the same formula of describing the situation (context), the task at hand (what you were required to do), the actions you took (choices you made), and the result. In addition you describe what you wished would have happened, and any choices that you could have made as an alternative, to create a different outcome. The premise here is that we are better and learning if we have a chance to celebrate and anchor what is working and why and also build in the capacity for scenario planning of alternative outcomes. Just because we have an experience, doesn’t mean we will learn from it. The discipline of “Plus + / Delta Δ” makes the learning explicit, accessible, and scalable for future preparation.

The second practice is called “Recalibration.”

“Recalibration” is a writing exercise that I suggest to individuals and companies when they are going through significant changes, feeling lost, or feeling overwhelmed. Like arrows in a quiver, these questions can provide wonderful guidance on how to sequence events and how to establish priorities:

Where have you been?

What have you learned?

Where are you going?

What is required?

As you can imagine, these questions can be answered on a page or may extend into a two day working strategy session within a company.

For those of you who need more structure I offer this guidance:

  • Where have you been? (7 observations about past landscape)
  • What have you learned? (10 bullet point lessons/scars and what you hope to remember going forward)
  • Where are you going? (7 observations about current/future landscape)
  • What is required? (3 mental muscles you need to strengthen, 2 skills you must acquire, 3 resources you must engage)

The third practice is called “Shadow Dancing.”

“Shadow Dancing” is a discipline that requires a six week commitment to create 30 minutes a day of writing. The theory behind “Shadow Dancing” is that we each have very strong internal critics and we judge ourselves. Often what insights we may need or truths we may want to discover about ourselves may be deep, deep within our psyche. By creating a disciplined practice of writing over a long period of time — new thoughts, insights, and perspectives may come to the surface. In my post Individuation of Ideas I suggest that having insight isn’t so much about being intelligent as it is about being present. Even if you don’t know what to say and write — create the space and time anyway. Write “I am bored” or “I have nothing to say,” again and again. Just preserve the time and write. Perhaps, in the disciplined presence, a great idea will have the stillness required to land.

In this era of information overload and complexity — the one thing that will stay constant is who you are at your core, what you value, and your own discernment. Please take the time, by design, to strengthen your own voice so that you can hear the wisdom of your intuition, anchor and reinforce learning from the past, and support your personal resolve against the seduction of the macro.

We are navigating in physical space and in virtual space. You are the only one to know what are the right questions as well as determining the right compass.

Here are some additional links to support your clarity:

Oh yes, and one more aspect of the usefulness of being human — generosity. I received an unexpected handwritten note from and individual in my community. It was lovely to be surprised by unanticipated kindness.

Jennifer Sertl

Co-author Strategy Leadership and the Soul



Jennifer Sertl #a3r

Biz strategist fostering better decisions,systems thinking, scenario planning. Mind of chess player ♜ Heart of a poet ♫ Inviting depth ... @agility3r