Dave Snowden

Blogging from Macau

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I’m very happy to do this CE guest blogging for the next two weeks. I started blogging earlier this year and have found it a very useful place to organize my thoughts on knowledge management. I’ve worked for many years at the intersection of library science, information management, records management and knowledge management. For me, they are all aspects of how we deal with recorded information and expertise. I’ll come back to this in a forth-coming posting. But first, let me explain a bit about myself and what I’m now doing.

When I agreed to do the CE guest blog I didn’t know I would be working in Macau. Macau is the ‘other’ special administrative region of China. Where Hong Kong was British and commercial Macau was Portuguese and gambling. The two places couldn’t possibly be more different but they share the same odd status of being part of but separate from the ‘big country’ ~ China. I started a 6-month contract job in Macau just before Easter’s Good Friday. This is a very nice Easter present for me since I haven’t been ‘working for pay’ for the past 3 years! Thank-you John Stanbridge on your last post about the absurdity of “Happy Holidays”! I hope all of you who celebrate Easter had a very “Happy Easter” indeed. Mine was quite nice and I went to Good Friday mass here in Macau. Macau does Christianity very well because of its 450 years of good old-fashioned Iberian peninsula Catholicism.

Almost exactly 3 years ago I was down-sized from my job in the tobacco industry as a records manager. I had worked for the same ‘tobacco giant’ on two occasions for a total of 16 years. I left once in the mid-90‘s for a few years and worked on the constructions of Hong Kong’s new airport at Chep Lap Kok as its document control manager but I was enticed back by the prospect of more smoke-filled rooms. In the end, I wasn’t too sad to leave big tobacco as I had done about as much as I could with retention schedules, disposal suspension, document discovery, taxonomies and document management systems. It is fascinating to work in an industry that is dying but still making vast amounts of money.

So, at 50 I was unemployed with some money in-hand and a thought I would just take time to ‘do something different’. I had been living and working out of Hong Kong for the past 20 years and thought I needed a break. I had lived in Japan on short-term assignments twice before and thought it would good to not be so ‘lost in Japan’. I went to Japan and enrolled in 5-day a week 8 hours a day immersion Japanese school in a small city called Okazaki which can be easily located if you look for the town of Toyota which it is right next to. I lived with a Japanese family for a while and they always said that all of the directors of Toyota lived in Okazaki because it was so much nicer. I studied Japanese for 9 months and figured out 2 things; it was going to take me 3 years to become well and truly fluent (Malcolm Gladwell is right about the 10,000 hours) and I desperately missed Hong Kong ~ the hustle and bustle of a Chinese city, smells both good and bad, excellent Cantonese cuisine like steamed fish pork cake with preserved vegetables and a typical dim sum with 75 choices. I will forever be able to have a simple Japanese conversation, read a train time-table, watch a bit of Japanese anime on TV and write a rather stilted thank-you note in Japanese. This is what about 800 hours of class instruction plus 2,000 hours of homework got me.

Beginning in the 90‘s I had started to encounter ‘knowledge management’ at conferences and in my reading. It seemed to provide a useful framework to hang many different problems I encountered when dealing with records and systems and people. Hong Kong had began to have some knowledge management activities in the last 90’s and a small society was formed around 2000. I went along to some events and learned some useful concepts and approaches. I remember learning how to do a ‘knowledge audit‘ at a workshop and then actually doing one and people at my company were amazed at the results.

I cam back to Hong Kong in July 2008 and enrolled in the Knowledge Management master’s program at Hong Kong Polytechnic University beginning in September 2008 and worked at that full-time until I just finished in December 2009. The program was excellent and it gave me a very good framework to organize my work experiences and apply knowledge management concepts. I had read some of Dave Snowden’s and his associates work over the years and I took the CE training in September ’09 in Hong Kong. I’m noticing the impact of my new education now in my first week at this consulting job in the gaming industry here in Macau.

For me, knowledge management is about putting the human element back into work process management. Without careful care and attention to the people and how they feel about the process it will very likely fail. The process may or may not involve information technology. If we introduce information technology without thinking about the people the result will likely not be as expected. The two most common results are people will ignore the technology or use it in totally unexpected ways. I’ll return to these themes and more throughout the next two weeks.

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