Ask Adam Anything #5: Teamwork and Criticism

This week, Adam takes a question about how to best work in team environments where members may be critical of your work or overly protective of their own ideas. It’s an important discussion! If you have a question or something you want to share with Adam, post in the comments below! We’ll be back next week with another question answered!

Comments (55)

55 thoughts on “Ask Adam Anything #5: Teamwork and Criticism

  1. Everyone always asks people what they have learned from their failures. I would like to know what you have learned from your successes…

  2. The Socratic Method of debate is one of the most valuable tools a person can have in the rhetorical tool chest. I will often disagree with people at my work about how something is done, but when I use the Socratic method to pick apart the solutions it becomes clear whos idea is best (sometimes it’s mine, sometimes it’s not, but whats important is that when you’re willing to question your own solution the other person will often do the same)

    Great advice.

  3. I love these short Q&A’s. Much of the format is about dealing with so many questions at a time, sometimes it is hard to get through or find the bits you are interested in.

    Here is a question for Adam:

    As the last episodes of Mythbusters aired, the President thanked you all for encouraging young people to pursue STEM degrees. Being that Jamie has a liberal arts degree and both of your backgrounds are solidly artistic, do you feel like humanities and arts are being under supported?

  4. For me one of the biggest moments in my professional development was to separate out my personal emotions from my work professionalism. Someone doesn’t have to agree with my idea or even acknowledge how brilliant it is, it can be rotely shot down. The difference between a professional and someone who shuts down emotionally is how they handle that rejection.

    It may not be a bad thing to stick to your guns if the problem is that people do not understand on a macro or micro level your idea and how you are trying to tackle the problem. Your problem then may not be your solution to a problem but rather how you are communicating your solution. If you let your emotions take over you could find yourself becoming flustered and close yourself off to further creative input either internally (by you not listening and refusing to participate) or by the people you are trying to collaborate with (they may shut you out of the process because you are being pouty and disagreeable).

    Now the other real possibility is that you do not understand the problem and you are offering solutions that either do not address the problem or are just completely wack (hey it happens to the best of us). I have been both completely right and completely wrong and a mixture of both enough in my life to realize (sometimes later) that I need to step back from the problem remove my emotions from the troubleshooting and address the problem from a different view.

    The moment that you really shine with your peers is having tact. Being right isn’t as important in a group setting as finding the correct solution. The best way to refine your processes with your team is to have post mortems after an incident and keep copious notes of your process to solving the problem If you have a solid team you guys will eventually find your groove and develop a methodology and a type of shorthand with each other that allows you to operate most effectively OR it will turn into a finger pointing session. If the latter is true, find a better job those kind of environments will slowly eat away at your soul.

  5. Thanks Adam, i liked this.

    i was recently introduced to memetics by an old TED video ( I really enjoyed learning about evolution theory applied to ideas/designs/thoughts. This brought me to 2 main realizations and conclusions:

    1. for great ideas, they need to come from a group of larger variation, which is likely to happen with a team of more diversity. The usual race, religion, nationality, gender, etc. all play into this, but so do differing experiences held by people who may otherwise ‘look’ the same.

    2. great ideas don’t necessarily need a strong proponent to ensure they survive. Rather, great ideas them selves are likely to be imitated, copied, and in general ‘inherited’, making them more likely to survive the evolution of the ideas.


  6. Oh and a question for Adam. I’m by no means a metal worker. I would love to add heft to my props but unless I get metal working equipment, I wonder if there are more creative ways to make props feel more substantial and convincing. thoughts?

  7. Hi Adam! My name is Nick and I’m a first year computer science at Georgia Tech. I consider myself to be a life-long maker, but ever since I started watching Tested a couple of years ago, my knowledge and abilities have greatly improved thanks to all of the one day builds! However, there’s still one area where I struggle a lot, which is properly translating photo references of props into real world items. I know you just did a video on taking reference shots for the Martian space suit, but I’m wondering how you actually go about using those photos during the build.

    Specifically, once you have a reference shot, how do you go about translating that into precise details with exact measurements? Furthermore, how do you do this for shots that come from movie clips, rather than your own personal photos where I assume you would place ruler down for size reference? In general, please just elaborate on some of your techniques for how to actually use reference photos, both personally taken and captured from movie clips.

  8. you might try hollowing it out and adding lead shot to it If you pack it tightly or add a binding agent, like hot glue or epoxy it won’t be rattley. Take the appropriate precautions working with lead.

  9. Thanks for doing those Q&As. Its funny how close all of these mentioned problems are to the work of a graphic designer so i find them in my case very very helpful. Here is a question i would love to have answered from you Adam:

    Looping around the Problem and the fear of not getting out of it

    So trying to fix a problem or coming up with an creative idea can be a pain in the butt especially when under time pressure. I get myself often caught in thought-loops circling around the same thoughts over and over again. now there is a hole bunch of techniques to get out of these loops but they all have in common that at first they cost time wich leads to the fear of “will the idea or solution come in time or will it get me end up being late on the task?”. How do you deal with that and what are the techniques you learned over the years?

  10. A model-making specific question here, something you have mentioned a few times but never demonstrated and discussed: How do you “blue” gunmetal colours?

    For example, I have a nifty little technique of simulating shiny metals on model rifles and guns using acrylic paints – spray light gunmetal, then dry brush a chrome silver to get that slightly tarnished and scuffed old shiny steel look. I then do what I call a “gunk wash” where I cover the whole piece in a dark oil paint and rub most of it away to get shadowing and tint. I may also airbrush some Tamiya Smoke over it to warm it a little. But what really want to do is have a blued steel look with perhaps some chipping in places where the base shiny steel shows through, I can do the chipping, that’s no problem, I just have no idea of the best way to get the blued steel look. Any help would be lapped up and assimilated!

  11. Hey Adam and everyone at Tested!

    If you could visit any space and time either as yourself or a ‘fly on the wall’ just to witness an event, but only once. When and where would you go?

    Obvious answers may be the moon landing, Hitlers bunker in WW2, Roswell etc. I ask people I work with and get some very interesting and varied answers.
    Would love to know all your answers at Tested!

    Dave Lightfoot

  12. Dear Adam

    I know you have covered Duct Tapes range of uses but would you mind doing a video on varieties of tapes and their potential uses and unique and unexpected uses for them. I loved seeing what you did with that aluminum tape any other cool applications for tape you care to share would be apprecaited.


  13. i SEE the socket organizer behind him it looks like he just cut a angled box and drilled holes at opposing angle so that they’re level and just used the appropriate forstner bit. My question for adam is there a common tool that you think could be made immensely better by changing something or a tool for a problem that you wish somebody made but does not ?

  14. Great answer Adam! Thanks so much for the insight!

    And you are correct good sir, AppletonBottomsby is not my real name… or is it??

  15. Here’s my question for Adam.

    In 30 years time, who will make my T-Shirt?

    Some background is needed. I’m sure you’ve seen one of the all time best Ted speakers, Hans Rosling, and his bubble charts. His TED talk in 2009 predicted that both India and China will reach similar income levels to the Western world in 2048. For our entire lives, cheap labour has concentrated manual intensive manufacturing in the third world, creating a disposable economy. The first world rarely make or repair things, it’s simply cheaper and easier to buy it. For things that can’t be made without automation, the cost of manufacture will seemingly start to become prohibitive. Could we start to see the masses spend a full day making a dog bed, because they can’t afford to buy one?

    Put on your futurist hat, and tell us how will this play out. Will the rise in automation continue the point where the makers become robots, and the disposable economy lives on. Will there be a reconnaissance of makers, where the markets for handmade products return to peak levels? Will everyone become a maker, much like YouTube made everyone a video publisher?

    Will my T-Shirt be made on my home printer; by a robot my local Amazon depot, drone delivered; or will I commission the creation of the highest quality item with my local T-Shirt artisan?


    Glen from Sydney

    Ref: Ted – Hans Rosling – Asia’s Rise

  16. What a great conversation Adam.

    That was one of my favorite parts of Mythbusters, was when you and Jamie would just sit, discuss and hammer out how to start a build or myth. Loved seeing your minds collaborate.

  17. This is a great question and one I deal with constantly in new product engineering. As you said, it ultimately comes down to respect. If someone presents an idea and is summarily dismissed, it shows them that their ideas aren’t valued and may cause them to be slow to make other suggestions. Disenfranchising a team member reduces the collective brain power of the team. But if we listen carefully and discuss ideas without snap judgement or condescension, we build a stronger team with each interaction. It’s ok to highlight issues or opportunities, but it must be done with tact and respect.

  18. I quite like comedian Richard Herring’s versions of that question, which are “if you could go back in time and compare any food with its modern equivalent, which food would you pick” and “if you could sleep with any one person from history, who would it be”. :p

  19. In conjunction with this question – I have always wondered if you have any advice for being in a workplace where you do disagree with a coworker, but are forced to problem solve together. I know you and Jamie, while disagreeing on everything, still respected one another. How do you form a sustainable working relationship with someone whom you fundamentally disagree with on everything?

  20. Adam, how do you get motivated? When everything gloomy and you feel like you are treading in quicksand, how do you push forward?

  21. What ideas, concepts and/or processes have you “carried” between your workshop and your kitchen? Have you implemented the “first order retrievability” in your kitchen, and if so how?

    We’ve recently installed a new kitchen and I find that the drawers (we only have drawers under the counter tops) are far superior to the cupboards we mostly had earlier. I know you’re drawer averse but I think their great here, curious though to hear how you’ve organised your kitchen and if any idea from the kitchen has affected how you work in or organize your workshop.

  22. Now that The Science channel bought the rights to Mythbusters, How do you feel about that they are looking for “the Next Mythbusters” in a new upcoming series ?

  23. Hello Adam,

    I’ve recently embarked on a build that is going to require replicating a lot of tiny pieces, presumably via casting in acrylic. I wonder if you could share any insights/tips/tricks into casting — casting large things, small things, avoiding voids, preserving detail, etc.

  24. Adam, How do you deal with the dust and general cleaning of your shop to keep it in a TV/Video ready state?

  25. Hi Adam, I just saw a older episode of Mythbusters and I have a question. Has your methodology on working in a shop changed from the time you started Mythbusters to now. Why I ask is because it seemed in the early years of the show they liked the play up the fact you were this care free spirit when it came to projects and use of tools at M5 and Jamie was always mad at you for making some kind of mess or nearly breaking a tool. This way of working doesn’t really match up with how your shop is set up and how you work on a project (based on Tested videos and interviews). Were you really that carefree 15-20 years ago and have developed a more refined shop methodology or have you had roughly the same methodology, but for good TV was the carefree spirit more emphasized for to play up the differences between you and Jaime?. Thanks for your time.


  26. Quick question for Adam:

    What do you do for when you need tools and other workshop items at a remote location? I assume you did quite a bit of this on MB and I’m wondering what your thoughts are on loading up tools, parts, and whatever you need.

  27. Hello Tested Team,

    sorry about my bad english.

    i have a question to Adam. today in germany your 1000 years man – documentation was aired again. it was quiet intressting. i am a big fan of “Perry Rhodan” – universe. It is a very old SciFy-“Groschenheft” Story. (google says it called “novelette” in english 😉 it has over 3000 books released and big fan base and a new spinn off called “Perry Rhodan Neo” . Did you know it and did you heard about it ? (short story: Aliens landed on the moon and four astronauts tooks over by building with technology a new “Big player” beside the USA and Russia (in the “cold war”). The Idea is to build a Global Community (terra) and putting (the small minded – country and nation related Problems to a global solution).

    did you know it ? did you read it ?

    greetings from Germany

    Thomas Kloppholz (Translated it means Knockwood .. 😉 )

  28. Adam,

    I am the type of person who has many hobbies, from computers, robotics, photography amateur prop/costume making, and many other hobbies. With each hobby I dive into to it a ridiculous amount. I buy tools, I read every book I can find on the topic, watch hundreds of YouTube videos, anything to help perfect this new hobby. At any given time I could have upwards to 15 projects in different fields on the back burner.

    My question is how do you prioritize your many projects that you do? How do you know when a hobby should become a career to pursue? Finally do you feel there is time to give up on a hobby to pursue other hobbies more in depth?

  29. Adam,

    What do you do when a project goes wrong. You’ve discussed projects that went wrong for clients, but how about screw-ups that you did on your own projects. Did you step back and put them in a box or just trash them? What did you learn from your mistakes. Did you practice the skills that you didn’t know or maybe buy two kits, one that you knew was probably not going to work out.

  30. From what I have gleaned from numerous interviews with both of Jamie and Adam, in the early seasons of Mythbusters, there were some producers that had a tendency to go for the “low-hanging fruit” when it came to making things interesting, and they focussed on, encouraged, or even manufactured tension and conflict between the two hosts. It’s sadly very common in so-called “reality” shows, often to the point of outright lying or deceitful editing.

    As time went on, Jamie and Adam got a better grip on what the core story-telling device of the show should be, and the producers that stayed with the show understood that the process of discovery and the struggles to overcome mechanical obstacles were the real story of each episode; there was no need to insert faux tension by pitting the two hosts against each other. Their personalities are such that they would certainly clash naturally, every now and then, but even when that happened, there was no need to dwell on it within the episode, unless it was in service of the real story.

  31. Dear Adam,

    This video came close to answering the question I was thinking of asking, which was this:

    While both you and Jamie surely have had enough of each other for a good long while, on a personal level, do you think that either of you will soon grow to miss the other in their professional capacity?

    Will you miss having someone around who’ll give you pushback on your ideas and nitpick them for problems you may not have considered or may have subconsciously avoided? (Always remember those pesky cognitive biases you have listed on that poster…)

    Will Jamie come to miss having someone in his shop who can knock out a build at the incredibly rapid pace at which you are always going?

    Thank you,

  32. Adam, I’ve considered myself a maker most of my life and have recently wanted to get started in model making. I know you did this several years before mythbusters and was wondering what beginner advice you might have.

  33. Adam,

    Awesome answer!

    Could you please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please *inhale* please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please

    Share this video with the wider world?


  34. Hey Adam, I recently decided to throw myself into the maker field. I am trying to make my own tabletop gaming table. The problem I’m having is I didn’t have any tools to start with and there’s many i need/want to have to continue my project (like i want a lathe for spinning my 4x4s into…well, not ugly blocks). Any suggestions on how to build up my tools when I’m doing this as a hobby without just throwing money hand over fist at it?

  35. I recently was injured because of an accident at work and have had a lot of time off, in my spare time i built a 3d printer (mostly built by my two friends). What did you do when you were injured and could not work?

  36. Adam; For MythBusters, if funds, insurance, and reality weren’t a factor, what myths would you:
    1) Want to have tackled but couldn’t because of cost or insurance said no
    2) Revisit on a full scale of the myth (like blown out of the water with a real battleship and torpedo)
    3) Want to have tackled from science fiction movies, but are realistically improbable (like does blowing up a Death Star create a large explosion in space)

    just to see what happens when nothing holds you back.

  37. Is the search for new Mythbuster hosts an early April fool’s joke or did someone finally hit a producer and the team was canned for insubordination?

    Change of generations is a tricky thing in entertainment but has been done in late night TV or public broadcasting in Europe many times

    There are a lot of funny people out there with skills but they also have to have a special kind of mojo to get embraced as you have been.

    I am sure there are TV executives who think they solved the equation but forgot that it will be tested by the viewers.

  38. Adam, I’m interviewing for a job that is completely outside my comfort zone. As a jack of all trades (scientist, engineer, juggler, unicycle rider etc) how do you best seek out, learn and master a new skill?

  39. Adam,

    I was wondering how you stay motivated. Especially on the the kind of day where you may not feel like doing anything but must, or you really would like to do something but can’t find the motivation to get started.

  40. Adam,

    I am the type of person who has many hobbies, from computers, robotics, photography amateur prop/costume making, and many other hobbies. With each hobby I dive into to it a ridiculous amount. I buy tools, I read every book I can find on the topic, watch hundreds of YouTube videos, anything to help perfect this new hobby. At any given time I could have upwards to 15 projects in different fields on the back burner.

    My question is how do you prioritize your many projects that you do? How do you know when a hobby should become a career to pursue? Finally do you feel there is time to give up on a hobby to pursue other hobbies more in depth?

    Hi Adam,

    To add to this question: is every minute of your time planned out so you can tackle various hobbies, jobs, family responsibilities, etc.?

    Thank you,


  41. Hi Adam. I watched your untitled episode on books (from 2012) recently. I wanted to see if you’ve read two outstanding classic Sci-Fi books/authors that I haven’t heard you mention before. Gregory Benford’s “Timescape” and Sir Fred Hoyle’s “The Black Cloud”. Both are of the “hard science” type and are among my all time favorites, though they seldom/never make it on any top Sci-Fi lists. Timescape did win the Nebula Award when it came out around 1980. Benford is a practicing physicist. Hoyle was a British astronomer/cosmologist and originator of the term “Big Bang”. Richard Dawkins wrote of Black Cloud: “one of greatest science fiction novels ever written.”

  42. Adam, how did you find a career path? What could you recommend for people who aren’t an expert in one thing but have certificates in everything from welding and carpentry to media production and sewing. I just want to make something at my job everyday but I don’t know where to start.

  43. Adam, you’ve made and collected a lot of objects. Do you ever grow tired of certain things and toss them out? Do you have a guiding process that helps avoid turning The Cave into an episode of Hoarders?

  44. Hi Adam,

    First this is not a question.

    I just wanted to say that i really enjoy this segment and that i think i learn a lot from it, both as an professional and a hobby maker, i am an engineer by trade and as it was stated in this segment there are a lot of similarities between being a maker and an engineer. Again thank you for shearing your experiences and i hope to se more of this videos and your wonderful one-day builds!

  45. Those are great points, Adam, about respect, neutral questions, and listening. Another couple of effective techniques would be a brainstorming (no criticism) zone postponing critiques to a later part of the discussion – and just waiting. Waiting until folks have gotten their energy out about other ideas, and then re-introducing your own can be very compelling, particularly since you can talk to the benefits of yours compared to the others.

  46. Question : My eleven year old son is an avid builder/creator future mythbuster/aviator.

    Aside from studying flight, he creates all the time, he loves Mythbusters, and making models. He collects 1:200 scale airplanes and makes meticulous dioramas for them. He goes to art class and comes home and continues to create all day. I can’t stress this enough, his mind is always active he is always creating..

    I’m an artist, former VFX artist, I try to support him, teach him about tools, give him tools to support him. He has my dremel collection now. He learned how to sew. He can make ceramics he can use most of my tools except my shop tools which he is starting to learn.

    He knows how to cast in plaster, in other sculpting media and always wants to know more. He begs me to teach him how to cast in metal (which I don’t think he’s quite ready for yet).

    The next thing i think he can learn though is metal machining. My question is, can you tell us how young you were getting started in all these things you excel at, and can you recommend what might be next for my son? We are in Boulder Colorado, and have access to a place called TinkerMill which provides training in welding, machining, 3dprinting etc at very low cost. All of which is important because we home school and try to follow his passion for creating.

  47. Excellent exploration… Whenever I lead a team where conflict is due to emerge, there is one mantra that you can always use and which everyone will understand:

    “There are many good solutions – But there is only 1 best solution”

    This together with the “shoot to see what survives” mode should be really powerful.

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