RIP Seth Roberts

seth-roberts-headshot-colorNews came today that Seth Roberts, the UC Berkeley professor of psychology, collapsed during a hike near his home. I met Seth through our respective blogs and shared a few meals with him in the Bay Area over the years.

I’ve blogged about him several times. Seth taught me about self-experimentation and science. He taught me about nutrition and fish oil. He taught me about innovation and creative thinking.  Most importantly, he taught me the value of appreciative thinking, which I once summarized thusly:

School teaches us to be proactively skeptical and critical. We’re taught to immediately look for the flaws in experiments or theories. An appreciative approach, by contrast, simply asks, “What’s redeeming about this experiment or idea? What’s done right?”

Some VCs are naturally appreciative, others naturally critical. After an entrepreneur pitch their first feedback will either be, “OK, here’s what I like about what you’re doing” versus “Here’s where I think the problems are.”

I am trying to take a more appreciative approach to people. When I meet someone new at a cocktail party, I am trying to ask myself more regularly, “What’s cool / impressive / interesting about this person?” as opposed to dwelling on their imperfections.

Like many who knew him or read his stuff, I’ll miss Seth. He was a one-of-a-kind thinker. And a deeply compassionate person.

3 Responses to RIP Seth Roberts

  1. Chris Yeh says:

    Sadly, I never met Seth, but I definitely appreciated the spirit of inquiry he brought to “The Shangri-La Diet” (which one of my coworkers referred to as my “hummingbird” diet). He will be missed.

  2. C.M. Mayo says:

    Thank you for this note about your friend the one-and-only Seth Roberts. I, too, was a big fan of his excellent and always thought-provoking blog. I never met Seth in person but for me his creativity, courage, pursuit of excellence, and generosity were a great inspiration. I was an avid reader of his blog. What a shock to read it today, with the note from his sister that he is gone. Here’s hoping he is winging on to amazing adventures.

  3. Another fine quality of Seth’s is, I think, that he was not only intellectually original but while being original he was also quite cheerful.

    If you are full of original ideas, the world will think you are nuts. This is depressing.

    So it is easy to be unconventional and misanthropic.

    And of course, it is easy to be conventional and quite happy in the world.

    But to be unconventional and also happy in the world — this is difficult, this is impressive.

    His passing is a great loss.

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