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Wednesday, 23rd July 2008

Weathering the Storms for 125 years

I attended the opening ceremony of the exhibition "Weathering the Storms for 125 years" at the History Museum yesterday. The exhibition will last for two months, up to 22 September.

Severe flu had kept me in bed for three nights and three days before I left for the ceremony. I nearly missed this important occasion marking the 125th anniversary of the Hong Kong Observatory. While I was struck down by flu, I thought of the question: why organizations like the observatory could last 125 years or even longer when its constituent members all have finite life? Students of science like me are people who ask questions where others see no problems.

It appears to me that an organization is like an organism which has its own survival objective. Generations of employees come in young and go out aged, providing their youthful energy to sustain the organization in its journey towards its survival objective. Thus the age of the organization is not bounded by that of individual persons.

The individual is finite while the collective being, that is, the organization is infinite. The key lies in the individuals working with PASSION, allowing their energy to converge and align with the organization survival objective. This term of mine "survival objective" is probably what modern management calls the "vision" of organizations. It lies at the heart of the organization as a living organism.

For an organization to survive and sustain, it also requires a collective memory to accumulate experience and capability. This is often expressed in the form of established processes and procedures. But what is even more important for the organization is an ability to sense changes in the social circumstances and to self-adjust to adapt. That would depend on the collective wisdom of its employees.

I hope that you would see at our exhibition at the History Museum that the energy of the Hong Kong Observatory is derived from the guiding principle "service based on science". Never swerving from this principle, step by step, we transformed ourselves from a small observatory to a modern meteorological and geophysical institution delivering a complex array of information services, responding to Hong Kong's own metamorphosis from a small fishing village to a world metropolis.

When you visit the exhibition at History Museum, don't just admire the artifacts and instruments. I invite you to see through them how generations of observatory people created the modern Hong Kong Observatory through years of hard work and constant adjustments. When you see the meteorological records made by observatory staff imprisoned at the Stanley concentration camp during the Second World War, remember that the observations were made under extreme hardship when even staying alive was a non-trivial task. Do realize also that the Hong Kong Observatory was the only department of the Hong Kong Government which continued to carry out its basic function during the occupation period. Maybe you would then appreciate how far PASSION drives the people of the observatory.

The history of the Hong Kong Observatory is in the final analysis a history of its people. This exhibition represents our sincere salutation to all past and current staff of the Hong Kong Observatory.

C Y Lam

Last revision date: <17 Jan 2013>