As Smart as a One-Legged Man on an Escalator

IN 1900  MARK TWAIN rode the first ever Central line train. Some eleven years later London Underground employed a stroke ingenuity that the renowned writer would have been proud of himself.

It was at Earl’s Court in 1911, that the very first escalator on the London Underground system went into operation. Passengers who had never before seen such a contraption were naturally apprehensive; this was after all, in the days where horses remained the main form of road transport.

A moving mechanical staircase in which in you had to jump on and off to ride was hardly an appealing prospect. Passengers stared at it, too frightened to get on. Safety information posters reassuring the public had little effect. As so, London Underground tried a new tact …..monkey see monkey do.

William ‘Bumper’ Harris was an employee who had lost his leg in an accident. He was invited to the station and asked to spend all day riding up & down on the escalator in a relaxed and jovial manner.

When nervous passengers saw him their fears immediately dissolved – with reassurance that if Bumper could safely negotiate the escalator, anyone could.

Beginning with this demonstration, a machine originally perceived as foreign, has evolved to one in which we intuitively engage with (some individuals suffer with Broken Escalator phenomenon – a  feeling of momentary imbalance when stepping onto a stationary escalator, that you don’t feel with fixed stairs).

Taking cues, confidence and trust from our environment, from other people, on how to act is both natural and instinctive. Social norms influence our behaviour and shape our perception of risk.

Despite the ‘presumption in favour of’ offsite manufacture (OSM), modern methods of construction (MMC) remain to be recognised as an industry norm.

At Akerlof, we aim to shift the paradigm by continuing to demonstrate the successful application of MMC. Applying our breadth of experience, we guide and support our clients through the uncertainty of new experiences and scenarios to deliver better outcomes. We enable informed analysis, evaluating risk of innovative solutions objectively rather than with preconception and bias.

Like Bumper, you can take confidence from what we show you.

Adapted from London Underground’s Strangest Tales by Iain Spragg, a tale revived by Dave Trott (

I hear the debate about the moving staircase is escalating – Tim Vine.

Jamie Hillier


With a penchant for tweed and jackets with leather arm patches, Jamie began his career as a quantity surveyor, before climbing the ladder to lead major projects for a Tier 1 contractor.

Eventually expanding his book collection beyond copies of SMM7, Jamie has interest in a broad range of subjects linked to delivering better outcomes for society and the environment.

His strategic insights on MMC and behavioural science have made their way into numerous government, industry and academic publications, including the Construction Playbook, Transforming Infrastructure Performance Roadmap to 2030, the Platform Rulebook and the RIBA DfMA Overlay.

John Handscomb


Construction is in John’s blood. Learning from his father who was a planner and project manager, John began his career by working on some iconic projects in both the public and private sector.

As a procurement expert and integrator of new ways of working, John has pioneered the integration of platform principles, DfMA processes and supply chain within over £5bn projects in the last 15 years, for some of the largest building programmes in the UK. Despite his considerable expertise, John keeps it simple, communicating complicated ideas with ease and helping to equip the industry with new knowledge and skills.

Outside of Akerlof, John enjoys his executive role with technology start-up ScanTech Digital, spending time with his family, taking trips down the football, playing a bit of golf with friends and the odd pint. 

Our name is shared with George Akerlof, a Nobel Prize-winning economist.

His seminal paper, Market for Lemons, demonstrated the devastating consequences of making decisions under the conditions of quality uncertainty and unequal information between buyers and sellers, increasing the chance of buyers ending up with a ‘lemon’.

This 50-year-old concept continues to retain parallels within the construction industry.

Through our insight and experience, we can rebalance this information asymmetry on behalf of our clients, levelling the playing field to deliver better outcomes.