Petersen, Verner C. 1946-

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PETERSEN, Verner C. 1946-


Born August 23, 1946, in Hederslev, Denmark; son of Harald S. (an electrician) and Bodiil Marie (a shop assistant) Petersen; married Lilian Maden (an administrator), July 26, 1986. Ethnicity: "Caucasian." Education: University of Århus, M.Sc., 1973; Nordiska Institutet för Samhällsplanering, D.Phil., 1985.


Office—Department of Organization and Management/CREDO, Århus School of Business, Haslegaardsvej 10, DK-8210 Århus V, Denmark. E-mail—[email protected].


University of Århus, Århus, Denmark, lecturer, 1973-86; Århus School of Business, Århus, professor and docent, 1986—. Danish Department of Trade and Industry, member of Vision Group, 2001; member of other national panels and committees.


European Business Ethics Network, Association for Practical and Professional Ethics, U.S. Naval Institute.


Rapportskrivning (title means "Report Writing"), Systime, 1989.

Etik (title means "Ethics"), Systiem/Gad, 1991.

(With Stuhr Lassen) Værdibaseret Ledelse (title means "Value-based Leadership"), Confederation of Danish Industry, 1997.

Beyond Rules in Society and Business, Edward Elgar Publishing (Northampton, MA), 2002.


Verner C. Petersen told CA: "In my research I attempt to gain insight into the basic premises of intelligent organization, using small-scale experiments, observation, and analytical studies in a cooperative setting. The modern focus on textbook theories of organization, knowledge management, so-called human capital, rational problem-solving, innovation and entrepreneurship means that the basic premises of organization have been ignored. My experimental approach looks into cooperation and fairness, knowledge creation and synthesis, problem-solving and decision-making in emerging organizations, and the self-organizing properties of swarms and groups. With a deeper understanding of these foundations, it will be possible to let some of the air out of the heavily inflated popular misconceptions, and perhaps create a more stable and enduring base for acting sensibly as members and/or leaders of work organizations.

"Comprehension came slowly, but some years ago it dawned upon me that the solution may have become the problem, that much of what is regarded as self-evident in regulating and managing behavior in society as well as in business, in fact, carries the seeds of strange outgrowths that may turn attempted solutions into their own problems. These notions, beliefs, and convictions emerged piecemeal and pell-mell from personal observations, research, and practice. For years I wanted to bring order into this critique of modern approaches to the regulation of behavior.

"In my later writings I have tried to show the acuteness of the problems we are dealing with: how we might be losing responsibility for our own lives as a result of schemes that are supposed to create responsible institutions; how attempts to correct unethical behavior through bureaucratic regulation may lead to a worsening of the kind of problems they are supposed to solve, or represent wrong answers to some very fundamental questions. This moral decay is made worse by the small and not-so-small ambiguous mechanisms that bring about spirals of moral decay in business as well as in society. Focusing on big scandals makes us forget that people causing these scandals may in fact behave like us, that the vicious consequences of their behavior are reflected in the myriads of insect-eye-like facets that we, you as well as I, represent.

"I also wanted to show the perverting influence on behavior of various schemes of measurement and evaluation. Based upon very thin assertions of 'scientificness', these schemes are used to create a basis for regulation and management. By re-enacting a kind of scientific management using quantifiable formulas for quality, knowledge, and leadership, they bring about lower quality, erosion of important aspects of knowledge, misconceptions of leadership, and less ethical behavior—contrary to all the stated intentions.

"Before I could see the vague outline of an alternative to approaches that bring about their own problems, I had to dig deeper into an understanding of the kind of knowledge and values we use when evaluating, deciding on courses of action, and acting. This is how I got the idea that knowledge and values rest on a tacit foundation.

"This enables us to know more than we can say, and it is important for intelligent and responsible behavior. The implication is that attempts to make every aspect of knowledge explicit may be futile and paradoxically result in unthinking and mechanical behavior prescribed in explicit algorithmic instructions.

"This view brought forth new problems that had to be solved, because such a tacit view might pave the way for an individualistic and relativistic view of values. After thinking about this problem for a long time, I believe that I have found a solution in a more or less universal social grammar. It is a social grammar anchored in the history and development of human beings and human society, containing values that are shared, non-relativistic, and relatively constant—a grammar that makes communities possible.

"I also had to understand the mechanism through which values can be transmitted from generation to generation, from individual to individual, without ever being stated explicitly. Values are not constant over time, and I had to find a tentative explanation of how our values change, not as a result of rational deliberation in a well-ordered context, but as a result of trial and error and unpremeditated convergence around solutions that prove viable and consistent with the more basic values.

"The new approach offers an exciting alternative to traditional ideas of regulation and management of societies, as well as businesses. The emphasis is on expressive action, on showing how tacit knowledge and ineffable values may be expressed in action, responsible entrepreneurship, self-organization, and spirited, value-based leadership.

"Instead of explicit regulation from outside, I try to show that the logic of capital can be contained by self-regulation of business. Instead of seeing the organization as similar to that of a complicated Swiss analog watch, it must be seen more as a kind of intelligent anthill or a complex organization. Self-organization, in which the actions of individuals cannot be planned and foreseen in a very determinative way, is necessary in an economy where there is less focus on repetition and more on creativity and renewal.

"This calls for a new view of management and leadership. Many aspects of modern management as we know them do not seem to be compatible with self-organization. Modern management is too much about doing things right, not about doing the right things. What is needed is a stronger emphasis on leadership, not of resources, but of thinking individuals: spirited leadership that can make sense, show direction, and support the drive of the individuals making up an organization; leadership that is shown in express actions, not in statements, credos, and regulations. A leader cannot communicate and lead solely through a piece of paper. Neither the leading part of leadership nor the forceful but ambiguous drivers that really move members of an organization can be left out.

"A more genuine understanding of self-organization, self-reference, and self-control is necessary. I argue that cohesion, coordination, and the drive of self-organized efforts have to rely on the layers of shared knowledge and a shared social grammar in order to work. Any other alternative would tend to resurrect the specter of a more traditional hierarchical structure.

"It is my hope that my writings will help bring about the understanding that self-regulation based on values and attitudes is the only viable alternative to modern bureaucratic attempts to regulate and control behavior in both society and business. What we should be striving for is not less individualism and more collectivism, but a kind of enlightened individualism, with a responsible self playing a cooperative game."

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Petersen, Verner C. 1946-

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