Archive for Hong Kong

Language Police – Why are you speaking Cantonese?

I’ve been in Macau now for almost 5 months. Just after I arrived I did a 2-week series of guest blogs at Cognitive Edge. Since then, I’ve been very quiet here except for updating the Events page and doing some twitting.

Some of those CE postings were about groups and how they define themselves. Being in Macau makes me think what is a group in this part of south-east China. How are Macau’s groups different from Hong Kong’s groups or are they different at all? There is something going on here in Macau that intrigues me and I’ve been noticing some rather odd ‘language encounters’ since I’ve been in Macau. In Macau people frequently speak Putonghua to me first in shops, taxies, buses, etc. If I answer in Cantonese (trust me when I say it is bad Cantonese) they switch to Cantonese and only seldom to English. In Hong Kong very seldom does someone speak Putonghua to me and when I speak or answer in Cantonese they frequently but not always respond in English. Some of this can be explained as skill-level with English in Hong Kong being higher than Macau. However the assumption of ‘this westerner may speak Putonghua’ in Macau is definitely a different assumption from Hong Kong.

Should we all speak the same language so we can share knowledge and information more easily? This has been the express aim of standardizing language in China for a few hundred years. It really got going in the 19th century with the ‘white language movement’ and since 1949 its been an aim of the central government to get the population to use Putonghua in conjunction with simplified Chinese characters and Romanized Pinyin Chinese. Changing the characters was and remains a master stroke in information control. Mainland Chinese cannot easily read newspapers and books published in the traditional characters used in Macau, Hong Kong and Taiwan. The central government has been largely successful and even in Guangzhou, the home of Cantonese, the vast majority of people speak Putonghua very well. The case in Hong Kong and Macau is very different. Putonghua in Hong Kong and Macau is gaining ground slowly since the handover to China in 1997 and 1999. Putonghua is encouraged in Hong Kong and Macau but it is not a required language. It is very odd that the national language of China is not a requirement in the schools of Macau and Hong Kong.

Over the past several weeks there has been a groundswell of protests first in Guangzhou and then Hong Kong about the suppression of Cantonese in Guangdong province. These protests started when the local authorities proposed stopping Cantonese television broadcasts on the both of the local television stations. The justification was the Asian Games to be held in the autumn required more exposure to Putonghua, the national language of China, among the general population. Somehow, in a few months time with no local Cantonese television, the local population’s fluency would race upwards and everyone would sound just like they were from Beijing. Also, during the games visitors wouldn’t want to / need to watch Cantonese television. That there are several Putonghua television stations broadcasting 24/7 in Guangzhou was ignored by the local authorities. The reaction to this plan was swift and loud and in Cantonese. Protests were held in Guangzhou and these were quickly suppressed by the local authorities. The protestors moved to Hong Kong. The SCMP has been awash in a very old and acrimonious argument over the merits of Cantonese and Putonghua. Here is a nice summary of the history from a Victor Mair on the Language Log site. Lucy Kuo, of the LA Times has a similar view here. Chang Ping, a writer from mainland China, wrote this insightful editorial in the SCMP, here.

The Cantonese issue has not been reported in the Macau Daily Times, one of the English language papers here in Macau. From asking a few local Macanese they have told me it isn’t seen as much of an issue in Macau, ‘we really should speak Putonghua but we need to speak to our parents’ is the sort of response I heard. It does seem that Macau people are less wrapped up in being so identified with the Cantonese language.

I was in Hong Kong last week and when I asked a few long time Hong Kong friends about this controversy they were adamant that they were not going to begin speaking Putonghua anytime soon. Things like, ‘over my dead body this is going to happen’ is the sort of response I heard.

On the mainland there is an expression that can be paraphrased as, ‘nothing is more painful than having to listen to a Hong Kong person speak Putonghua’, it is meant in jest but it is true that listening to a Hong Kong Cantonese speak very high pitched Putonghua is rather painful.

Sharing knowledge normally does require sharing a common language. There are ways around this but they require technology and/or expensive human translators. Hong Kong likes to call itself ‘Asia’s World City’, but as Mark Pixley from Leadership, Inc. of Shenzhen likes to say it would be more accurate to call Hong Kong ‘China’s last Cantonese speaking city’. I wonder how long Hong Kong can stay this way?

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HKKMS Statement of Accounts

The Hong Kong Knowledge Management Society (HKKMS) has released its statement of accounts for the period 2008 March to 2009 December. This statement was supposed to be part of the last Annual General Meeting (AGM) in December 2009. I’ve checked the accounts, prepared some questions and added some explanation of the statement here. If you are a member of the HKKMS then think about asking for the answers to these questions.

I was part of a a group of people who asked for a Special General Meeting (SGM) in March. We thought that there needed to be an open and transparent meeting where all members of the society were invited and allowed to discuss what could be done to improve the society. We requested the SGM but the HKKMS board refused to allow the meeting to take place. I’m still puzzled why these questions were so difficult to discuss in an open forum.

The points we wanted to discuss taken from our letter to the society:

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1. The annual report from 2009 did not include the balance sheet and the accounts. These are required by the Society’s HK KMS Statutes | Nov 2009 (see Article 4 (b)). The balance sheet and accounts need to clearly describe all income and expenditures of the society.

2. There is a general lack of transparency in the operation of the society. Interaction between members is one of the main purposes of the Society according to its HK KMS Statutes | Nov 2009 (see Article 2). For example, the names of the individual and corporate members are missing from the 2009 annual report. The terms of office for the president and other board members are not generally known by the members and are missing from the 2009 annual report. Society meetings are scheduled without sufficient time for members to make plans to attend. Knowledge management activities in Hong Kong and the surrounding area are insufficiently communicated to the Society membership.

3. The HKKMS website requires substantial revision. It had been agreed at the 2007 AGM that this was a priority. Since that time, members have offered to help with the website revision. However, the membership can see few visible results to develop an up-to-date and interactive member driven website.

4. The HKKMS website domain is now owned by Waltraut Ritter, the founder of the Society. An effective and fair transfer of the domain to the society needs to be discussed.
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Related posts about the HKKMS are here and there is a list of HKKMS events here from March 2009 to March 2010.

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Hong Kong’s secret knowledge management societies

Knowledge managers frequently talk about the importance of openness, transparency and sharing. Openness means to new ideas and new people. Transparent means easy to understand, available for critique or suggestion and freely available to anyone who is interested with low and weak barriers. Sharing means exchange of ideas, expertise, advise, connections to other people, information technology and other sorts of tools and how to use them. I can’t imagine any knowledge managers objecting to openness, transparency and sharing as concepts and activities that should be promoted and encouraged. Well, I couldn’t but then I joined the secret knowledge management societies of Hong Kong and was in for a big surprise.

In Hong Kong we have secret knowledge management societies. Take a look on my list of knowledge management organizations in the Pearl River Delta area here. The HKKMS (Hong Kong Knowledge Management Society) and the KMRC (Knowledge Management Research Centre) are two of the many knowledge management groups in Hong Kong. I’ve been a member of the HKKMS on and off since it was founded in 2001 and I’m a member of KMRC by default for 2 years since I graduated from the HKPolyU MSc KM program. In my opinion, these two organizations run themselves like secret societies. By secret I mean they don’t open-up themselves to new ideas, they don’t encourage their members to know each other and they don’t promote their activities widely, openly and transparently.

These two organizations like to hide behind the reason that they have Chinese members who don’t like to be open, transparent and share. I’ve listened to this reason for poor openness in Hong Kong for 20 years and what I notice it that it is normally the reason given by westerners and very westernized Chinese who live and work in Hong Kong and want to appear to be ‘experts’ on the local Chinese culture. I’m very doubtful on the validity of this observation because I’ve run very open and transparent projects, activities and groups in Hong Kong with mostly local Chinese members on many occasions for many years. Most of the knowledge management organizations on my list are very open and transparent but these two, the most westernized in Hong Kong in my opinion, are not open and transparent at all.

The HKKMS has not had a current website for a few years now. There is no way of knowing what the HKKMS has done in the past or what it intends to do in the future. The society has tried to ‘amend history’ by removing the name of its past president from its webpages but it can still be found on the ‘way back machine’ see here [!warning this takes time to retrieve!]. This is really alarming and rather like Stalinist USSR or Mao’s China. I tried to help the society last year so I ran a list of HKKMS activities from March 2009 – March 2010, see here. The HKKMS resists mightily the idea of sharing the names of members among its members. I suspect their are about 25 to 30 individual members and 4 to 6 corporate members. I’ve asked several times over the past year and was told the society does not share such information for privacy reasons. At the time I wondered how the numbers could be private. The society was supposed to publish its accounts and balance sheet as part of its last annual general report but this was conveniently ignored, see here. I found it spooky to be a member of a society where I didn’t know the number of members, the types of members or the members’ names. The lack of transparency in the accounts is disturbing. I’m no longer a HKKMS member and I actively discourage others from joining the society or renewing their membership.

The KMRC sponsors and supports many knowledge management events in Hong Kong and sometimes in the surrounding area. However, if you go to the KMRC website it only lists a few of the many activities it sponsors and supports. My list here has many more KMRC events than the KMRC official website. Normally, the KMRC sends out emails to its members informing them of upcoming activities. I suspect it classifies its members into groups and sends out emails to only those members it thinks may be interested in a particular type of event. The center is a closed world of HKPolyU academics, students and possibly clients of past KMRC projects. In my opinion, the centre doesn’t promote the free flow of ideas, expertise and advice that would come from encouraging members to know each other. There is a ‘member’s corner’ in the KMRC website but its been ‘under construction’ for a long time. Interestingly, the HKPolyU is embroiled in a big controversy on the lack of transparency in its operations and there is an ongoing enquiry now in progress, see here and here. I won’t renew my KMRC membership when it expires and I actively discourage others from joining the centre or renewing their membership.

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Letters to the editor in 2009

I did a search of the SCMP, South China Morning Post, and found out that I had 6 letters to the editor published in 2009. They are on a variety of topics from where I live, Discovery Bay, Drug Testing in schools, Teacher-Student ratios in primary and secondary schools, Recognizing local artists, Disneyland and the HK Government. I reproduce them here for my New Year’s post.

(6) Tuesday, 27 Oct 2009 SCMP
Residents just love to complain

Discovery Bay residents simply love to complain. They complain about the ParknShop prices even though it is obvious the prices are the same here as at other ParknShops. The current Fusion offers a wide variety of European, North American, Latin American, Japanese, Korean and other goods that are not readily available at most ParknShops in the city.

Few customers seem to realise how much trouble is taken to provide them with what they like. They complain about sky-high bus fares. Can you imagine having to pay HK$4 for a bus ride? It is just too shocking. The hire-car is HK$15, so let’s complain. The buses are too noisy. Let’s complain. The swimming pool closes too early. Let’s complain. They complain they can’t have a car. They complain there are too many or too few or it is not convenient, or something. I like Discovery Bay. It is well-managed, convenient, clean and quiet and has many trees, and flowers and pleasant walks are abundant. People who live in Discovery Bay simply love to complain though. Have you heard the new hotel, that it is wasteful, will never have any customers and the few it will have are likely to be bad characters? And, let’s complain.

Bill Proudfit, Discovery Bay

(5) Monday, 14 Sept 2009 SCMP
Drug tests send wrong message

The school drug testing programme is absurd. The time, effort and resources should be put into drug education and counselling. Chasing after students to invade their privacy only teaches them that they have no civil rights. Students who refuse these tests are less likely to be drug-users but are more likely to be students who understand something about freedom.

Some casual drug use is going to happen among students. They need to know the risks and have help available to them. Drug testing is only teaching students the risk is being caught. The chief executive started this absurd campaign and it is time he stopped it. It is yet another example of his disdain for human rights in Hong Kong.

Bill Proudfit, Discovery Bay

(4) Friday, 21 Aug 2009 SCMP
A good way to foster contempt

Drug testing has been tried in other parts of the world and it does not have a significant impact on reducing drug abuse. I wonder if Eugene K. K. Chan, vice-chairman of the Association of Hong Kong Professionals (‘We must act to curb youth drug problem in HK’, August 14) would be in favour of the scheme if it were being piloted in the top-tier Anglo-Chinese schools? Does Angela Chong, of Macau, want to live in a society where she can be searched on suspicion of any crime (‘Nothing wrong with testing’, August 14)? In both cases, I think the answer would be ‘no’. If it is happening to ‘someone else’, it will be okay.

Drug testing of students is likely to result in a student testing positive because of doctor-prescribed medication. They will probably learn how to circumvent the tests. Drug abuse education should be a priority. Students will be pressured into this ‘voluntary’ testing scheme by teachers, school administrators, parents and fellow students.

Testing will not reduce drug abuse but it will lessen students’ respect for authority and confirm there is little respect for human rights in Hong Kong. This is a poor lesson to teach our young people.

William Proudfit, Discovery Bay

(3) Wednesday, 20 May 2009 SCMP
Cut class sizes to raise standards

I refer to the article by Anthony Cheung Bing-leung (‘Smartest export’, May 12). He asks if Hong Kong has ‘a knowledge-rich environment, and a free-thinking, inquisitive and creative ambience that should form the basis of a vibrant education hub’.

As is normal in education plans and policy in Hong Kong his emphasis is on tertiary education. Hong Kong will never achieve [such an environment] unless it reduces the primary-level class sizes to 20 and the secondary-level class sizes to 25 and increases the number of native English-speaking teachers in every primary and secondary school by a factor of five.

Bill Proudfit, Discovery Bay

(2) Wednesday, 22 April 2009 SCMP
How can the King of Kowloon’s calligraphy be saved?

A Home Affairs Bureau spokesman has declined to comment on the artistic value of ‘King of Kowloon‘ Tsang Tsou-choi’s street calligraphy, even though his work was exhibited at the Venice Biennale and adopted by designers as an iconic image of Hong Kong.

The Hong Kong government has no vision and no ability to recognise talent or acknowledge what Hong Kong people value and respect as creative expression. They are willing to spend millions on an art complex and contract out art education to schools with credentials that have been questioned. There really is no hope for art in Hong Kong.

William Proudfit, Discovery Bay

(1) Wednesday, 1 April 2009 SCMP
Do not meddle

I refer to the report (”HK will not bow to Disney pressure’,’ March 23). Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Rita Lau Ng Wai-lan said negotiations with Disney on the designs for its expansion had not reached the final stages. She said the government needed to know what the new attractions would be and whether they ‘would fit the market’s appetite’. This is the essence of the problem.

The Hong Kong government is not staffed by amusement park operators.

The administration has got involved in the day-to-day running of a theme park and this will not work. The government’s interest in Hong Kong Disneyland should be a passive investment. Officials should have nothing to do with vetting attractions like Disneyland and trying to gauge the market. They will never do this well. We only need to remember the West Kowloon arts complex fiasco.

William Proudfit, Discovery Bay

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Weak Signal Detection & the Christmas near-miss

The Christmas near-miss bombing of the Delta airplane in Detroit has been an evolving news story this past week. The reports are filtering in that there was scattered knowledge of a Nigerian being prepared for a terrorist attack in Yemen. The young man’s father had reported him to the American embassy in Nigeria in the past few weeks as having increasingly extremist Islamic views and having gone missing. It is unclear when the father knew his son was in Yemen although it is obvious he would have shared any information he had about his son. The UK had recently refused the young man a student visa. See here and here and here for BBC reports. These are not difficult dots to connect. Of course, hindsight is 100% accurate. What has peaked my interest is the role of knowledge management in the counter-terrorism and security intelligence in the USA.

I am now looking for a knowledge management job and have set-up job searches by preference for Hong Kong, Asia, Australia and then the USA. As I peruse the daily list of KM jobs I have been struck by the high number of ‘intelligence’ related position in the USA. They normally require some sort of ‘security clearance’ or the ability to obtain one. The positions are for knowledge gathering, knowledge synthesis across agencies and groups, community building roles, technical skills in Sharepoint and other content management systems are highly desirable as are Sigma Six and other project management qualifications. It is clear that knowledge management methodologies are being widely and actively used in counter-terrorism and the intelligence communities in the USA. These methodologies do not seem to be working very well.

I first heard about ‘weak signal detection’ from Dave Snowden at the KMAP 2006 conference in Hong Kong. Soon after KMAP I spent a year in Japan and then came back to Hong Kong to study knowledge management at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Knowledge management has connected a lot of the dots in my scattered work history of cooking, libraries and records management for big tobacco. See here for Dave’s KMAP presentation. Is there any ‘weak signal detection’ happening in the intelligence community? It seems that it would be their number one priority. The reports now coming out about the Christmas near-miss are very nearly the same criticisms as in the 9/11 report – failure to share information across agencies and groups within agencies, failure to connect available information and failure for those in authority to listen and understand the available information.

Are all of these knowledge management people working it US intelligence roles asleep at the wheel? I don’t think so and it is quite likely that there are many successes we never hear about. However, this one seems such a glaring miss that I would hope they give more attention to ‘weak signal detection’ and the tried and true knowledge management methodologies such as ‘sharing’ ‘openness’ ‘flatness’ ‘low-barriers’ and ‘exchange’. If all they are doing is populating increasingly large content databases with reports then they are wasting a lot of time and money.

The news now is all about ‘increasing airport security’ and ‘on the airplane security’ which are both so far off the mark that I don’t want to go on about them here. See Bruce Schneier’s excellent blog on security issues here.

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Hong Kong as a Knowledge-based Economy

This is related to my earlier post on knowledge cities, see here. The Hong Kong Census & Statistics Bureau has published this paper on Hong Kong as a Knowledge-based Economy which you can download here Hong Kong as a Knowledge Based Economy | Aug 2009 and a short description of the same here Hong Kong as a Knowledge Based Economy – Short Description | Aug 2009. You can go to their website and download the complete statistics from here.

The bureau measures in these four areas: ICT (information and communication technologies), human resources development, innovation systems and business environment. ICT in Hong Kong shows high usage of mobile phones, personal computers at home and in the workplace, internet access thru broadband and work-related websites. This makes sense considering Hong Kong is only half-a-step away from gadget-crazed Japan. Human resources development basically means education. Hong Kong spends large amounts on education and it has increased dramatically over the past 10 years. This is true. However, most of the increase in in tertiary education and support for R&D at the university levels. Primary and secondary classes hover around 40 students per class and the government is closing primary and secondary schools and laying of teachers in order to keep the student/teacher ratio high. This is flies in the face of any rational plan to support a knowledge-based economy. Innovation systems are difficult for me to understand but it seems that they are measuring 3 kinds of ‘innovation activity’, technological innovation, which includes R&D and non-technologial innovation, things like business processes, strategy, marketing and organization. Hong Kong has many more researchers from 10 years ago but pure R&D expenditure has only gone up slightly. Overall, ‘innovation activity’ has grown sharply. The assumption is made that increase in technology spurs forward innovation and that better business-results are the result of innovation. I’m more inclined to believe that other more pressing pressures spur on innovation. I still remember Max Boiset’s statement that ‘innovation springs from chaos’. The business environment in Hong Kong is flexible, fair up to a point, business formation is one of the easiest anywhere in the world. However, the business models in Hong Kong that is most successful is monopoly or oligopoly, seen most spectacularly in the city’s property sector – basically only 4 major players and the collusion with the HK government to maintain prices is astonishing.

I do agree that on balance Hong Kong is a knowledge-based economy. The perception among most of my KM classmates doesn’t seem so positive. At a end-of-term class gathering at the HK Science & Technology Park we were doing a knowledge cafe on the theme of ‘how would we spend $10 million to improve HK’ and the conversation got on to jobs, education, entrepreneurs and the use of knowledge and the consensus was that Hong Kong was very poor at using its people’s knowledge. People cannot find ‘good’ jobs because there was some mismatch between what they ‘did’ and what was considered a ‘success’. Perceptions of success in Hong Kong are based on money (our theme is a good indication of this) and success is defined in a very narrow and traditional way; professions like medicine, lawyers, accountancy are prized most and then followed by engineers and technicians and the bottom is made-up of teachers, salesman, designers and any sort of support service like retail, food, customer support and construction. No-one in Hong Kong is ever going to admit that there is a massive amount of know-how and expertise in the food industry or retail expertise in business is as valuable as preparing a balance sheet. This attitude means that students are only pushed into a narrow range of occupations and those that resist are labeled failures. This is most unfortunate because what Hong Kong should emphasize is exactly the areas it ignores; there is no world-class culinary institute in Hong Kong, design schools are poorly funded and made to be part of other institutions and the study of successful retailing is simply not on the map in a business education for a HK student.

What could make it better? We didn’t have time to continue the discussion but for me just opening up to the thought that success is more than a white-collar job would be good step for Hong Kong.

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ICKM 2009 – International Conference on Knowledge Management

I attended the ICKM 2009, International Conference on Knowledge Management: Management Knowledge for Global and Collaborative Innovations, on 3-4 December, at the Hong Kong University.  There were many sessions, some grumbling that maybe there were a few too many sessions but I rather liked having the choice.  Some highlights for me are described below.  The complete program can be downloaded here – ICKM 2009 Program.


Keynote by Professor Max Boiset explaining how collaboration was managed at the CERN’s Atlas experiment.  Knowledge is a combination of the experiential, narrative and abstract which correspond to unmodified, structured and codified respectively.  His idea is that the non-hierarchical setup held together by Memorandum of Understandings which is the CERN works because there is a ‘boundary object, the Atlas detector’ (a very big and complicated machine that detects the sub-atomic particles after they have pulled around the ring) that provides the organizations with a purpose and a reason to collaborate.  Some good ideas on complexity, chaos, clans, bureaucracies, fiefs, clans and markets. His ideas on complexity and chaos are similar to Dave Snowden’s.  Chaos is the well-spring of innovation. The presentation is here: Max Boisot | The Case of the Atlas Experiment at CERN | ICKM 3 Dec 2009


Keynote by Dr. Edward Rogers, CKO, Goddard Space Flight Centre of NASA, explained the 10 things he did to enable knowledge at NASA. The two that stuck with me were understand how people learn and what do we do that makes us a success. In particular I remember him saying something like ….’the good think about a degree from an Ivy League university means you don’t have to use big words’… Its a good observation in the KM field where too many people like to impress with their vast vocabulary.


Bonnie Cheuk from Environmental Resource Management spoke about really ‘doing Web 2.0’ in a business environment.  You must coach the leaders and prepare them to be surprised. There is likely to be both positive and negative communication enabled by Web 2.0 and leaders need to be prepared.  The tool is not the focus so don’t worry so much if you are using tried and tired MS Sharepoint or cool and frisky Jive – the focus needs to be on the process and the people.


Kwan Yi from the University of Kentucky spoke about social tagging in comparison to Library of Congress classification.  Surprisingly, social tags matched LCC classifiers 70% of the time. This sort of research needs to be watched because there is not enough attention paid to professional classification and its interaction with social tagging.


Matsuko Woo from HK University spoke about using wikis with primary 5 students in their English writing class. The students were much more motivated to write and interact. They worked in class and at home and their parents could see their efforts. The teachers liked the immediacy of the writing process.  The teachers received an update when the students had made a posting to the wiki. The teachers could give feedback very soon afterwards to the students.


Andrew Chan and Ivy Chan from HK Community College spoke about using blogs with 2nd year community college students in an organizational learning class.  The students understanding of OL did improve. This is significant because OL is a topic that requires internal reflection.  Even those who participated the least said they enjoyed the blogging experience. The student participation was good and this was clearly attributable to the weekly feedback from Andrew and Ivy to the students on their blogs.


Louisa Mei Chun Lam from Hong Kong’s Chinese University spoke about pulling together the sense-making theories of Dervin, Snowden and Weick and applying it as a framework for interviews with doctors and nurses in Hong Kong public and private hospitals.  Her comparison and contrast of the theories was excellent.  The interview results will lead to some fruitful research.


Alvin Kwan from Hong Kong University spoke about comparing blogging by Information Management Students and Nursing Students while doing internships. Nursing students were much more motivated to blog. He believes it is because the nursing students have much more common experience to share during the internship.  The nursing students received much more feedback from their professors.  This is a common theme in the ‘use of Web 2.0 in education’; if there is a setting of defined goals and frequent meaningful feedback from teachers there is much better participation from students.


Anna Gamvrous from Baker & McKenzie spoke about lawyers use of Web 2.0.  Lawyers use LinkedIN personally and some firms in Hong Kong are beginning to use ‘official’ Twitter announcements.  Most of the rest of Web 2.0, blogging, chatting, social networking doesn’t happen inside law firms officially but lawyers may use it personally.  Law firms basically wait until their clients request them to use Web 2.0.  Surprisingly, B&K still print all email and other electronic records.


Charles Wong from the Construction Industry Council in Hong Kong and formerly from the Hong Kong Police Force spoke about his collaboration experience during the SARS crises in Hong Kong.  How do people collaborate when there backs are up against the wall?  Surprisingly not that well.  It took him 10 days to convince the head of the SARS crises unit to use the police force’s MIIDSS tracking system which was instrumental in controlling the outbreak. MIIDSS was supported by Chief Inspector Alan Chan Lun from the HKPF, see here.  

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Hong Kong as a Knowledge Capital

When I first encountered this term ‘knowledge capital’ a few months back I had no idea what it meant. That was part of the ‘Knowledge Cities’ conference held in Shenzhen, China in November, see my post about Future Centres. I didn’t attend that conference but I did catch Jay Chatzkel seminar on 9 November, “Hong Kong as a Knowledge Capital”. Knowledge Cities are cities that deliberately go about making themselves sustainable based on what they know and how they use what they know. An example of a knowledge capital was Lisbon in the 15th century when it became the centre for exploration and eventually the establishment of the Portuguese mercantile empire. Knowledge on what was out there beyond the horizon made that empire possible. It seems to me that a knowledge city needs to have a vision, purpose, education and goals. Jay Chatzkel was very impressed with what he had seen in Shenzhen and learned about other cities in China which visibly made the Hong Kong audience cringe in their soft chairs in a wood-paneled tiered lecture hall. This was Jay’s first trip to China and Hong Kong (same country different place) and he didn’t understand that here in Hong Kong praise for China is very seldom given. He went on to propose that Hong Kong needed to integrate itself more and more with China if it was going to succeed. Take a look at his website here.

This point has been made many time before by others. There are massive infrastructure projects to link Hong Kong and the Perl River Delta; from bridge to Macau and Zhuhai to electronic smart ID cards to make for fast access between Hong Kong and the mainland. I suspect many outside Hong Kong don’t know that the border with Hong Kong is still very real and mainland Chinese need visas to enter and remain in the city.

Maintaining a separate Hong Kong is still the order of the day. This is partly because we must maintain our British inherited legal system. This legal system makes Hong Kong unique among Chinese cities as a place where a business contract can be adjudicated in a court with a very good chance of non-interference from government interests. However, the main reason to maintain a separate Hong Kong is that Hong Kong people don’t like mainlanders. They like them enough to take their money when they come for shopping and visiting the much maligned Disneyland but not enough to remember that almost everyone in Hong Kong is a refugee from China, myself included. It is a very strange state of affairs. It is the most extreme example of city-folk not liking country-folk that I’ve ever seen.

I’m still not sure exactly what one of these ‘knowledge cities’ is but it seems that Hong Kong is failing in many respects. It lacks leadership – this is not surprising for those of us who live here and know our Chief Executive Donald Tsang and his team of toads, sorry Executive Councillors, – it lacks a coherent education systems – it is laying off primary school teachers so class sizes remain around 40 and at the same time has a new program to spend 100’s of millions of HK$ to support foreign (read not mainland Chinese because rumor is that mainland Chinese are not eligible for this program) PhD students studying in Hong Kong universities. This is part of the problem of Hong Kong – it only sees itself in relation to something outside of China and preferably something European. Twelve years after the handover and Hong Kong is still an outpost of northern Europe perched on the coast of southeast China.

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Future Centres

I went to a half-day seminar at the Hong Kong Science & Technology Park about Future Centres.  Four main presenters, Prof. W.B. Lee from HKPolyU, Mr. Hank Kune from the Netherlands and associated with the Dutch Future Centre network, Dr. Ron Dvir from Sweden and associated with Innovation Ecology and Prof. Leif Edvinsson founder of the Skandia Futures Centre and well-known for his work on intellectual capital.  This was prelude for the Knowledge Cities Summit starting tomorrow in Shenzhen, just across the boarder in China.  The summit will go on for 2 days and now I’m sorry I will miss it but I must concentrate on my school work.  Back to the future centres.  The HKSTP is very impressive; built on the waterfront of Tolo Harbour, a collection of about a dozen low by HK standard glass and steel towers on a green campus.   Its been a work in progress for years and rumor has it that it is having a hard time getting tenants.   There were quite a lot of people around at lunch but many of the towers looked rather empty.  It is a bit difficult to actually get to but by bus, train and bus I was there in just at an hour.  This is not bad considering I’m coming from Discovery Bay on Lantau Island which is about as far away as one can get in Hong Kong.

So what is a Futures Centre?  It seems to be a physical place which is outside of normal experience.  Hank Kune said “it is a place you can think outside of your normal mental patterns.”  It is not just meeting rooms but really different physical places, with unusual colours, unusual furniture – just generally unusual – sometimes quite jarring.  The concept is that by putting people in a new, different and unusual environment they will think about the future more easily.  Well ok, I guess this may be true.  The analogy is that most inspiration happens when people are doing something like hiking, going to the theatre, taking a shower and so on.  Somewhere it was decided that Future Centre meant Innovation Centre.  I’m not too sure when that happened but it was never questioned by the group.  Can we re-create and facilitate this sort of spontaneous innovation space and call it a Future Centre?  From the Netherlands, Scandinavia, Finland and the UK they gave us examples of Future Centres.  Typically associated with government bureaus and departments but there were a few examples from banks and the like.  Places where people could have the time to think about what may happen.  There were some impressive results – start-up companies formed, conflicts eased between bureaucrats and   construction industry , faster and more consolidated public service and so on.

Dr. Ron Dvir talked abou the Operating System for Future Centres and what that OS is made up of.  You can find a short list on his website here.   He came up with a much longer list so I’ll list them all again here.  Think how all of these can come together to create a space where people while embrace the future – lots of Nonaka’s ば, ba, here.

  • Value proposition
  • What are future centres
  • Building blocks
  • Models
  • Metaphors
  • Future centre as BA – ば
  • Organizational perspectives
  • Methodological perspectives
  • Physical perspectives
  • Technological perspectives
  • People
  • Results & Impact
  • Lifecycle
  • Business models
  • Permanence management
  • Visit
  • Play
  • Meet
  • Watch
  • Prototype
  • Innovate
  • Futurize

Prof. Edvinsson asked what would be the opportunity cost of not doing a Future Centre.  DaVinci entertained his patrons with his games, puzzles and ideas and used that income to fund his serious work.  It seems as reasonable as any other explanation, although I do think DaVinci made some money in building war machines for some Italian princes.   Prof. Edvinsson left us with a new word ‘actuality’ defined as what will happen in 0-12 seconds – apparently this is via Prof. Nonaka.

We toured the HKSTP briefly and saw some very well-kitted out rooms with science museum like games and activities.   A brain-storming center with a dozen laptops and a 4 huge screen overheard where participants could ‘brainstorm’ quickly and efficiently.  I don’t think my comment that 2.5 million HK dollars (my quick mental arithmetic on the kit) was needed to build something that could be done with post-it notes and a white board was well-received.   It was impressive and it would give almost perfect anonymity to the brain-storming participants.  Some of the other kit, like the brain wave game, was purely fun.  Are these rooms a Future Centre?  Most people agreed that the rooms were not the critical factor but rather the facilitation of using the rooms is what would make them become a Future Centre.  Now they are just rooms with fancy kit.

I spoke to a senior manager at the HKSTP at the end and it was revealing that  most of the 300 or so companies in the complex do not have any explicit knowledge management role in their organizational structure.  The HKSTP doesn’t have any group who facilitate knowledge management for the complex as a whole.   This is disappointing because the HKSTP is one of the most knowledge using intensive places in Hong Kong.  Maybe it will change in the future.

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Hello world!

This is a KM blog.  My name is Bill Proudfit and I’ve almost completed a MSc in KM from Hong Kong Polytechnic University.  I’m interested in how people organize themselves and how they use technology to manage knowledge – there it is the dreaded ‘knowledge management’ word.  There are so many knowledge management blogs – sharing, lots of advice on various software packages, lists of 10 best ways to….  This stuff can be useful when taken with a huge grain of salt.  The idealized world of the knowledge management blog never seems to meet the reality of the workplace.

I’ve lived in Hong Kong on and off for 20 years with some time out in Japan and Switzerland.  Hong Kong is the ultimate multi-cultural environment and the result is not what many people expect.   I’ll try and touch on how this impacts knowledge management.  Finally, I’ll share some of my own perspectives on what its like to live in a place where you are never really sure what the rules are and what you may have just done wrong.

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