Independent University Newspaper
Copenhagen Business School

Popular searches:

Independent University Newspaper

Copenhagen Business School

He gave time its own center

Tor Hernes, professor at CBS and Director of the Center for Organizational Time

Tor Hernes, professor at CBS and Director of the Center for Organizational Time (Photo: CBS)

Tor Hernes is a time person and the director of the new Center for Organizational Time. Why has he, along with four CBS researchers, decided to found the Center for Organizational Time and why should it be a worldwide establishment? Also, why should companies look to their past to be successful?

News |   28. Feb 2018

David Fulop

Student Writer

Five years ago, Tor Hernes, director of the newly established Center for Organizational Time, and Majken Schultz, a member of the very same organization, were looking into LEGO and some of the problems they had with their brand image. Why was LEGO having this crisis and what could they do to mitigate it? As it turns out, time was the solution.

According to the researcher duo, the rise of digital toys and the competition that followed thereafter resulted in LEGO forgetting about their original identity. This caused the company’s brand image to suffer. So instead of looking into the future, they decided to look into the past.

“We showed how they changed their strategy to refocus on bricks, which they had done in the past as a result of gaining more and better knowledge of the potential of the LEGO bricks. This has nothing to do with nostalgia, it is about retranslating the past. Focusing on novel aspects of the past that changes the ways that actors look into the future,” says Tor Hernes.


A page from a 1958 booklet filled with suggestions on how to use LEGO
A page from a 1958 booklet filled with suggestions on how to use LEGO (Photo: ercwttmn, flickr)

This case has helped Tor Hernes in shaping a new idea. Companies can change their past. Not in the literal sense, but rather through the reinterpretation of the past. And this can lead to new and unforeseen developments for a company.

“By drawing upon philosophy and the philosophy of time, we see that the past is also changeable. Even though it’s often seen as something that’s fixed, and not to be changed. But you can redefine the meaning of things that are in the past and you can project, and be inspired by that if you look at it differently. Then you can see the future in a different way,” says Tor Hernes.

Time is on your side

Tor Hernes believes that a company can also benefit by looking into the past. However, companies do not necessarily see the importance of this or know what to look for. Even something as simple as a meeting connects with time. How does one meeting connect to future meetings? How does it relate to the past? What happens in meetings, what happens to the presentations, PowerPoints, and discussions? How does that play out?

“Business people, managers, and other practitioners operate in time and with time, and often it’s implicit. And it’s often not made that explicit in teaching or literature either. So, we see a great potential there for opening up more explicit awareness of time and also what it means for practice.”


Tor Hernes lecturing about time in organizational management
Tor Hernes lecturing about time in organizational management in Victoria, BC, Canada (Photo: CBS)

According to Tor Hernes, looking at time in a different way can be difficult for companies to reconcile with as there is a lot of emphasis on the short term.

“We can see there is a 4-6-year overall time span. And this is where they have, what we call the temporal structures, such as budgets or routines, within this timespan. At the same time, many are exposed to the fact that there are environmental and demographic concerns, really long-term stuff that may go 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 years into the future,” he says and continues:

“To our understanding, there are no models that actually combine the short, operational, ongoing way of seeing time and the longer-term implications. And there is a risk there. Companies may get used to using this 4-6-year horizon and keep reproducing it.”

Standing the test of time

As with LEGO, IKEA also uses the past to successfully drive the company forward into the future. According to a Harvard Business Review article, Ingvar Kamprad, Founder of IKEA, frequently looked to the IKEA bible from 1976, The Testament of a Furniture Dealer, to keep the companies original vision as a central part of their strategy.

“Family owned firms that traditionally look at the long-term, like IKEA, have a very important past. They look back into their past, and because they are family firms, they tend to try and look maybe one or two generations down the road. And they actually tend to perform very well in the short run. So, there is something there to work on,” says Tor Hernes.

Only while sleeping one makes no mistakes. Making mistakes is the privilege of the active – of those who can correct their mistakes and put them right.

The Testament of a Furniture Dealer - Ingvar Kamprad

Currently, Tor Hernes and his team are working in collaboration with Carlsberg and Arla, through the Tuborg Foundation’s finance research. The aim of the research is to distinguish different time horizons and to see whether there are misalignments between them.

“We are going in with a clear time lens, where we look at how different parts of the company have different time horizons. We are very curious to see if there’s a difference between top management and Research and Development. Carlsberg and Arla do very advanced biological research, and their Research and Development departments actually have time horizons that are much broader than the strategy of the company. We want to find out why it is like that and what kind of contrasts and tensions arise from that?” he says.

Turning back the hands of time

CBS has always been big on multidisciplinary topics that span across business strategy, economics, and management to sociology, history, and philosophy. And according to Tor Hernes, the Center for Organizational Time uses all of these topics to discuss the effect of time.

“It’s all so complex that in order to advance in any discipline or thinking about time, it’s important that we assemble views and ideas from different disciplines and cross-fertilize against them. The center is not meant to turn people into time researchers, it is more to infuse the fields, with the time lens.,” he says and continues:

“We scan the horizons and see where the good ideas about time are, how it works, how it affects humans, organizations, and societies. That is what I call the attitude, and it underpins our actions.

Modern Times

The team behind the newly founded organization start their work from a central point of origin and reach out to find new ideas, models, and cases that are relevant to time’s role in organizational management and strategy.

“We plan to work a bit like a hub for thinking, a hub being a middle of the wheel. And to do that, we try to be inclusive and eclectic at the same time,” he says.

Tor Hernes believes that in order to achieve these goals, it was important that some of the researchers from CBS join forces. This is important so that they can have a greater impact at international conferences and build a more widespread network.

“We are four researchers here who share a mutual interest in time, rather than being four individual researchers doing different work,” he says and continues:

“People may think that research is all about is coming up with new, great ideas. And that happens all the time. But they are not easily accepted by others who like to stick to what they think, so, you need networks that accommodate and sympathize with these new ideas. Otherwise, you meet too much resistance. And our vision is to become an established world center.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

He gave time its own centerby

  • News

    Staff layoffs: What happens if you’re fired

    The clock is ticking. On Thursday morning (5 October), CBS employees will know if they are up for dismissal or not. But what will happen on the day? What emotional stages are you likely to encounter? And who will be there to pick you up when you are feeling the blow of being laid off? CBS WIRE has talked to HR and the consulting agency Actief Hartmanns to provide you with answers.

  • News

    Network, network, network – CBS graduates advise on getting your first job

    There are many approaches to finding your first job. Three recent CBS graduates talk about how they landed theirs. Their approaches were quite different, yet they all highlight networking as a key element.

  • News

    A-Z of the dismissals

    In these final days of September, the fate of a number of CBS employees is being decided. The final amount of money saved on salaries via voluntary severance agreements (aka redundancy packages, Ed.) and senior agreements will be known.  After this, the actual number of employees up for dismissal will be decided by management – and then the individuals will be selected.

  • News

    Layoffs break the crucial trust between organisation and employee

    CBS is laying off a number of employees soon, which will affect our university in different ways. When employees are fired without having done anything wrong, it shatters the trust between the organisation and employees, while also taking a toll on productivity, according to a CBS expert. Layoffs also affect the ‘survivors’, who are forced to adapt to a changed workload and the loss of cherished colleagues.

  • News

    Here to help – at the touch of a button and at Campus Desk

    Exam anxiety? Lost student card? I’ve wedged my car between a Fiat 500 and a lamp post, can you help? You never know what you’ll be asked next. But that’s just how the Campus Desk team like it. And if they can’t fix your problem, they’ll know someone who can. CBS WIRE asked the team about the whole range of topics they advice on every day.

  • Gif of the week
  • News

    CBS Quiz Time: Unraveling the success story

    A successful university environment such as CBS is often associated with academic pursuits, but campus life extends far beyond the classroom. At CBS Quiz Time, a student society motivated by creative thinking and social engagement, students join in a refreshing range of creativity, excitement, and social interaction. CBS WIRE talked to Celine Møller-Andersen to find out about the society’s vision, strategies and the factors that are driving its rapid expansion.

  • News

    Why so sudden? The CBS financial crisis explained

    Employees and union representatives have posed many questions in the wake of the 17 August announcement of a firing round. In this interview, University Director Arnold Boon explains how Senior Management has been working with the budget and a change of financial strategy since the fall of 2022, and why layoffs are now necessary.

Follow CBS students studying abroad

CBS WIRE collaborates with

Stay connected