Familiar done Differently

IN THE 1970s sushi was still relatively unfamiliar to most Americans. Many were hesitant to try raw fish, which was a key component of traditional sushi. A chef in Los Angeles (some versions attribute this to Ichiro Mashita) created the California Roll as a way to introduce sushi to American palates.

The California Roll integrated familiar ingredients (avocado, cucumber) and used cooked crab meat instead of raw fish. Crucially, it was designed with the rice on the outside and the seaweed hidden inside, making it visually more appealing to Americans unfamiliar with nori (seaweed).

This example, highlighted by the author Nir Eyal, demonstrates that people don’t want something truly new….  “they want the familiar done differently

We love new and improved but in relatively modest proportions. As Charles Kettering quipped:

“People are very open-minded about new things – as long as they’re exactly like the old ones”

New and improved is great for things we’re already familiar with, but not for products where we lack a frame of reference. This principle extends to how we build.

Adopting ‘modern methods’ often requires new points of team engagement, interrelationships, and activities. With an unfamiliar feeling and risk profile many clients are hesitant in their adoption. The market therefore needs to find ways to integrate new ideas or options with familiar elements, making them feel less foreign and more accessible to developers and public sector clients alike.

A study by Linda Bacon (2017) [what a great name] reaffirmed this principle. She assessed whether positioning plant-based foods as vegetarian on menus helped or hindered the ordering of these dishes and found that diners who received menus with plant-based dishes in a separate vegetarian section were 56 percent less likely to order those dishes. Almost a decade earlier, a study by Mogilner et al. (2008) similarly found that integrating products into fewer, broader categories (rather than many specific ones) can increase consumer satisfaction and purchase likelihood.

Therefore, while it was previously in vogue to create bespoke, dedicated frameworks to facilitate access to the MMC market, this approach may have raised ease of access but inadvertently reduced interest.  Dedicated MMC frameworks may have provided access for those with a defined commitments to CAT 1 solutions but inadvertenly excluded those less sure.

Building Better, the National Housing Federation-backed alliance of housing associations and councils, has recently broken this mould. They have integrated their housing delivery providers with a mix of both ‘traditional’ and ‘modern’ solution providers. The ‘Integrated Traditional Build & MMC framework’ responds to calls from social housing providers for a compliant way of involving trusted, local contractors on MMC projects, where elements of traditional construction are often still needed.

This allows housing providers to bring in local, trusted construction firms who can lead offsite projects. Mixing the blend – offering new with the familiar – the housing equivalent of the California Roll.

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.