Two Types of Knowledge

IN 2018 the French-language Scrabble world championship was won by a New Zealander who didn’t speak a word of French.

For Nigel Richards, this remarkable feat was a repeat experience, having previously won the championship in 2015 and multiple duplicate titles in between.

With an eidetic memory (similar to photographic) Nigel spent weeks studying a French dictionary however his friend (and former president of the New Zealand Scrabble Association) Liz Fagerlund acknowledged that

he won’t know what they mean, and wouldn’t be able to carry out a conversation in French I wouldn’t think.

With over 386 000 words plus the challenge of adapting to the French lexicon, this feat necessitates more than just rote memorisation. Nonetheless, Nigel’s achievements reaffirm the difference between the knowing the name of something and knowledge about it.

In a talk about what went wrong with Enron, Charlie Munger (Warren Buffet’s business partner) told a anecdote about Max Planck that illustrates the same.

After receiving the Nobel prize in Physics in 1918, Max Planck went on a tour across Germany. Wherever he was invited, he delivered the same lecture on new quantum mechanics. His chauffeur had heard the talk so many times that he grew to know it by heart, and so one time, he asked Max Planck if he could give the address. Planck agreed, they changed places, and the lecture came off famously. But then came the Q&A, with the first question from a physics professor. The chauffeur replied: “I’m surprised to hear such an elementary question on high energy physics here in Munich. It’s so simple, I’ll let my chauffeur answer it.

As the growth of ESG , MMC and industrialisation continues to gain momentum, alongside it grows a swell of information that can inform theoretical, chauffeur knowledge – ‘knowing that’.

At Akerlof, our insight is based upon practical and strategic ‘know-how’. We understand the market, technical solutions and the context in which they should and, equally importantly, should not be applied to realise value.

We don’t just repeat the words of others but instead apply our experience and deep knowledge to deliver value for our clients.

Un bon rapport qualité-prix – a term you won’t be hearing from Nigel.

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.