Adam Savage on Great Tools, Great Projects, and Great Lessons (#370)

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Adam Savage on The Tim Ferriss Show podcast

Photo by Norman Chan

“A true creator knows that you follow the thing to where it’s going, not to where you think it ought to go.”
— Adam Savage

Adam Savage (TW: @donttrythis IG: @therealadamsavage FB: therealadamsavage) has spent his life gathering skills that allow him to take what’s in his brain and make it real. He’s built everything from ancient Buddhas and futuristic weapons to fine-art sculptures and dancing vegetables.

The son of a filmmaker/painter and a psychotherapist, Adam’s previous positions include projectionist, animator, graphic designer, carpenter, interior and stage designer, toy designer, welder, and scenic painter. And he’s worked with every material and in every medium he could fathom—metal, paper, glass, plastic, rubber, foam, plaster, pneumatics, hydraulics, animatronics, neon, glassblowing, mold making, and injection molding, to name just a few.

In 1993, Adam began concentrating his career on the special-effects industry, honing his skills through more than 100 television commercials and a dozen feature films, including Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace and Episode II – Attack of the ClonesGalaxy Quest, and the Matrix sequels.

A decade later, Adam was chosen, along with Jamie Hyneman, to host MythBusters, which premiered on Discovery Channel in January 2003. 14 years; 1,015 myths; 2,950 experiments; eight Emmy nominations; and 83 miles of duct tape later, that version of the series ended in March 2016.

Today, Adam hosts and executive produces MythBusters Jr., as well as a brand-new series, Savage Builds, which premieres on Science Channel in June 2019. He also stars in and produces content for Tested.com, including behind-the-scenes dives into multiple blockbuster films (including Alien CovenantMortal Combat, and Blade Runner).

In addition, after a lifetime of hunting for the perfect bag, Adam launched Savage Industries and began manufacturing his own, along with MAFIA BAGS. Made in the United States and constructed primarily from recycled sailcloth, every bag is not only durable and lightweight but unique, as well. The current line (available at AdamSavage.com) includes two sizes of the EDC (“Everyday Carry”) and pouches, with more product both available on the site and on the way.

Finally, in 2019 Adam wrote his first book, Every Tool’s a Hammer, which is, in Adam’s words, “…a chronicle of my life as a maker. It’s an exploration of making and of my own productive obsessions, but it’s also a permission slip of sorts from me to you. Permission to grab hold of the things you’re interested in, that fascinate you, and to dive deeper into them to see where they lead you.”

More information about the book is available at AdamSavageBook.com.

Watch the interview on YouTube.

You can find the transcript of this episode here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Overcast, Castbox, or on your favorite podcast platform.

#370: Adam Savage on Great Tools, Great Projects, and Great Lessons
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Want to hear another episode with someone who’s not afraid to let their geek flag fly? — Listen to my conversation with Aisha Tyler in which we discuss optimism, free-range parenting, aggressive failure, heckler stories, and much more. (Stream below or right-click here to download.):

#327: Aisha Tyler — How to Use Pain, Comedy, and Practice for Creativity
Download


This episode of the Tim Ferriss Show is brought to you by Theo Chocolate, which is the first organic and fair-trade chocolate company in North America. The folks there reached out to me because they spotted some neatly stacked bars of their dark chocolate coconut in a recent Instagram photo of my fridge (see it here).

This is a brand that does everything from scratch, and the difference shows. It’s why Theo is one of my favorite chocolates. It offers tons of different bars, little snacks like coconut bites, and also imaginative creations like a cinnamon horchata bar, beer and scotch chocolates, and its signature s’mores bite — The Big Daddy. My personal favorite: Salted Almond Butter Cups, which are ridiculous.

Theo is helping drive its industry forward by working with communities in the Congo and Peru to make the economics of the cocoa trade fair for farmers, and by using sustainable farming practices. Whether you want to feel better about where you buy your goodies or you just want a really unique and delicious gift for yourself or someone else, they’re available in Whole Foods and other grocery stores across the U.S. For listeners of this podcast, Theo is offering 15% off your online purchase at TheoChocolate.com. Use code Tim15, or visit TheoChocolate.com/Tim for more details.


This podcast is also brought to you by Athletic Greens. I get asked all the time, “If you could only use one supplement, what would it be?” My answer is, inevitably, Athletic Greens. It is my all-in-one nutritional insurance. I recommended it in The 4-Hour Body and did not get paid to do so.

As a listener of The Tim Ferriss Show, you’ll get a free 20-count travel pack (valued at $79) with your first order at AthleticGreens.com/tim.


QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

Scroll below for links and show notes…

SELECTED LINKS FROM THE EPISODE

  • Connect with Adam Savage:

Website | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook

SHOW NOTES

  • Adam and I discuss our shared love of Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away and how Adam designed his disturbingly wonderful No-Face cosplay for Comic-Con. [07:18]
  • Adam’s inspiration for building not just one, but two suits of armor as a sophomore in high school. [12:09]
  • In high school, what did Adam think he was going to be when he grew up? [14:15]
  • How did a lack of specialization in his 20s lead Adam from New York to San Francisco, and why does Adam see San Francisco as a more ideal place for finding one’s ambition than New York? [16:32]
  • Did Adam find his focus in one cathartic moment, or was it something discovered slowly over time? [20:31]
  • How has theater been a force multiplier for Adam’s very particular set of skills, and what necessary family ethos kept him grounded? [23:16]
  • What would have made Steve Martin’s Born Standing Up a better audio book. [27:40]
  • We share recollections about Adam’s quirky Maltese Falcon presentation at the 2008 Entertainment Gathering where we first crossed paths, and he explains its evolution from a 10-minute throwaway talk encouraged by Kevin Kelly. [28:36]
  • The highest possible achievement Adam feels can be attained on stage. [36:43]
  • The origin of “Failure is always an option.” [37:29]
  • Favorite failures that led to later successes. [40:24]
  • Authors, thinkers, and philosophers who have had an impact on Adam — particularly Noam Chomsky in the current poltical climate. [44:19]
  • How Adam used the perspective of a screenwriter to de-escalate an argument. [47:41]
  • Where did Adam’s “watching the watcher” habit originate? [49:22]
  • What projects would Adam suggest for aspiring but inexperienced makers to get a taste of building something? [51:35]
  • The point when a maker goes from gear-switching mode to entirely mental mode. [55:04]
  • The practical side of obsession: find something you have to have and try your hand at making it. [57:28]
  • The last notable object Adam had to make. [58:21]
  • The materials one might use to build their own miniature scale home. [1:00:16]
  • A documentary about the artist David Hockney I highly recommend, and how it relates to practically scaled art. [1:01:39]
  • How a movie set Adam recently visited bridges between art, construction, and narrative like a big, complex puzzle that has to move just so in order to tell the story properly. [1:03:33]
  • What’s the story behind Adam’s rumored egg-making prowess? [1:04:55]
  • A few of my own egg secrets. [1:09:25]
  • Is Jacques Pepin a Jedi master? [1:10:27]
  • The Jacques Pepin and Julia Child way of finishing scrambled eggs. [1:11:20]
  • Musings on universal suffering and coping with defeating self-talk. [1:12:24]
  • The one thing Adam would tell his younger self if he could go back in time. [1:20:40]
  • How Adam’s book may be more of a stegosaurus he found than the tyrannosaurus rex he was in search of (and why that’s not necessarily a bad thing). [1:23:58]
  • What Adam and his wife can expect from the Studio Ghibli Museum in Tokyo. [1:26:34]
  • “Take no cure for your dignity.” [1:27:35]
  • Parting thoughts. [1:29:20]

PEOPLE MENTIONED

Posted on: April 30, 2019.

Please check out Tribe of Mentors, my newest book, which shares short, tactical life advice from 100+ world-class performers. Many of the world's most famous entrepreneurs, athletes, investors, poker players, and artists are part of the book. The tips and strategies in Tribe of Mentors have already changed my life, and I hope the same for you. Click here for a sample chapter and full details. Roughly 90% of the guests have never appeared on my podcast.

Who was interviewed? Here's a very partial list: tech icons (founders of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Craigslist, Pinterest, Spotify, Salesforce, Dropbox, and more), Jimmy Fallon, Arianna Huffington, Brandon Stanton (Humans of New York), Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Ben Stiller, Maurice Ashley (first African-American Grandmaster of chess), Brené Brown (researcher and bestselling author), Rick Rubin (legendary music producer), Temple Grandin (animal behavior expert and autism activist), Franklin Leonard (The Black List), Dara Torres (12-time Olympic medalist in swimming), David Lynch (director), Kelly Slater (surfing legend), Bozoma Saint John (Beats/Apple/Uber), Lewis Cantley (famed cancer researcher), Maria Sharapova, Chris Anderson (curator of TED), Terry Crews, Greg Norman (golf icon), Vitalik Buterin (creator of Ethereum), and nearly 100 more. Check it all out by clicking here.

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23 comments on “Adam Savage on Great Tools, Great Projects, and Great Lessons (#370)

  1. Another book related to psychedelics and psychology “How to Change Your Mind” by Michael Pollan. I haven’t finished it but it seems good so far.

    Like

  2. Regarding your comment in this week’s 5-Bullet Friday:
    “…Coach Popovich has been on my mind as a possible podcast guest for years. This piece just reinforces the interest, but I know how much he dislikes most media. Perhaps some day……”.
    You are not “most media”. Your work and the wisdom you share with the world, both what you’ve learned and the deeply personal things about yourself, put you so far above the media. I’d say that you’re not media at all, but a leader and guide helping people find ways to have a better life.

    Thank you for everything you do.

    Like

  3. I’m curious, Tim. Have you ever done a Johari Window with your listeners?
    As a public persona I wonder how the way you see yourself matches up with the perceptions of the faceless ears you reach.

    Like

  4. Thanks for the recent posting re: ICL’s new research center. Want to help launch one in California? You could play an instrumental role in making that happen. We should talk.

    ***Imperial College London just launched the world’s first Centre for Psychedelics Research. This is a very big deal. Never before has such a center (centre = British spelling) existed in the world, and I am one of the five founding funders backing it. Psychedelic medicine is experiencing a renaissance of scientific interest, and this first-ever center has the potential to be the tip of the spear. These compounds may help treat so-called “intractable” conditions affecting tens of millions of people, and they may help us better understand the nature of consciousness itself. Here’s the 2.5-minute promo video, which gives you a taste of things (and studies) to come.

    If you’re involved with media/journalism and would like to learn more about the center to feature it, please reach out directly to Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris. This is very significant news, a big win for Imperial, and a watershed moment for the field as a whole.

    Like

  5. Hi Tim,

    Commenting from FiveBulletFriday.

    Portions of the Popovich article is covered in much better ground in Daniel Coyle’s “the Culture Code,” if you haven’t read, but I’m betting you have.

    I only chimed in here to say I support Coach Popovic as a guest, and more team sports coaches in general. I think you interviewing the right coaches would be fascinating, and new to your podcast.

    Like

  6. Dear Tim,

    I’m a longtime fan with a quick question on how to get ahead in the world today.

    What good habits should I try to acquire and what bad habits should I get rid of to get ahead?

    Many thanks,
    Alain

    Like

  7. Excellent podcast! Cheers to the makers, the adventurers, to those who craft life one hammer stroke at a time.

    Tim do you still do acro yoga? My partner and I are headed to Austin mid-June, would love to jam with you!

    Like

  8. Hi Tim,
    Thank you for your ongoing exploration and optimisation of the human potential, it is both inspiring and motivating.
    I simply had a guest suggestion for the podcast, Aldon Baker. A champion in is own right, he is now an elite coach with a remarkable track record. I think you may appreciate his method/s and approach.
    Thanks Again, Dale

    Like

  9. You have to sign up for George Kenney’s chainsaw carving workshop! Totally unique maker opportunity and a great getaway in Allyn, WA. If you want to have a big thrill after the workshop, you can do Wing Walking in Sequim. You are welcome to stay in a tipi at my place.

    Like

    • Hi Tim, just want to thank you for providing all these resources, although I haven’t been able to put them to practice, i.e due to lack of understanding or incomplete information, I can say that over the years I have noticed a huge improvement in my self & I will continue to gain more insight n basic understanding (meta) of the would around me
      Thank you.

      Like

  10. Hi, Tim. I’m commenting here in response to your last Friday 5-Bullet email.

    I saw your recommendation for Bird by Bird, with a link to Amazon’s book sale page.

    Considering your tremendous influence, I thought this hyperlink would direct me to an affiliate link, allowing you to receive a commission from Amazon’s sales — but it wasn’t.

    I know you’re a pretty smart guy, and you should have a reason to don’t use affiliate links in those emails. Could you explain it?

    A big hug directly from Rio de Janeiro!

    Leo Reis 🙂

    Like

  11. Regarding yesterday’s 5-Bullet…
    Thanks for introducing Katharine Dexter McCormick to your tribe! She is quite the hero here in our little town.

    [Moderator: additional text removed.]

    I really enjoy your content. Thanks so much, Tim!

    Sincerely.
    -Mike

    Like

  12. Hi Tim,

    Thanks for your weekly email. I love Bird by Bird too, especially her garden paragraph. Definitely my favourite bullet.#5BulletFriday

    Like

  13. To Tim and Adam, a great podcast! I ran right out and bought Adam’s book, which I loved… Sending it on to some of my Theatre geek friends 🙂

    Like

  14. Tim- I’m very grateful for the content you put out and the positive impact you have had on my life.

    Would you ever consider doing a podcast on having children, being ‘present’ as a parent while juggling a productive and meaningful life? Perhaps it is the children that bring meaning to ones life? One might not realize this until the very end. A specific question I’m grappling with is: how many children is ideal? I currently have 2, always wanted more, but not sure how adding more would change my life, positively or negatively. Is there an “expert” you’d be able to interview for something like this?

    Such a difficult topic to dive into that a lot of people don’t like to discuss. I’m sure there are tons out there like me who have this nagging curiosity.

    Thank you!

    Like

  15. Hello Tim!

    I am 16 and have been a huge fan of you for a long period of time. You were the first ever person who changed my mind beyond recognition. It all started with your TED talk “Why you should define your fears instead of your goals” which was incredibly inspiring and impactful, for me.
    I also read “Tools of Titans” and have to say that this is my first book that i have largely capitalized on. Just want to thank you for everything you do. Have a nice day and keep delivering the same way!

    Arthur

    Like

  16. So sad that the TED version of “My obsession with objects” doesn’t have the “Nope” moment. 😦

    Good interview. I’m going to go find both Adam and Steve’s book to read.

    Like

  17. I loved the interview.
    Adam is a pretty cool dude, and MUCH smarter and more articulate that I would have imagined.
    Shame he is in SF and has that SF mindset to the point that he needed the security of having many people around so he felt safe and comforted after the latest predident was elected.
    For someone who is used to watching, and double watching, his thoughts, he could, perhaps, move on to watching, and double watching, his feelings?
    Otherwise really enjoyed Adam and hearing his thpughts

    Like