Robert Edgell, SUNY Polytechnic Institute – Meaningful Transparency

We like transparency from our business leaders, but what kind are we getting?

Robert Edgell, associate professor of technology management at SUNY Polytechnic Institute, discusses the different types of transparency and which is most helpful to organizations.

Dr. Edgell is currently an Associate Professor of Technology Management, Co-Director of the Joint Center for Creativity, Design, and Venturing, and had volunteered for one year to be the Interim Dean of the College of Business Management at SUNY Polytechnic Institute. He has been a Visiting Professor at the Swiss Business School in Zurich and has delivered research papers and lectures at Stanford University’s Law School, the University of California San Francisco’s School of Dentistry, the California College of the Arts, and the University of St. Gallen. Previously, he was an Assistant Professor at American University’s Kogod School of Business where he was named Outstanding Faculty. Also, he has taught at San Francisco State University’s College of Business.

Dr. Edgell’s scholarship agenda expands upon his deep commitment to creativity, design, innovation, governance, and diversity. He is currently researching institutional change micro-processes, design culture, collective ideation, and entrepreneurial capacity development. He has collaborated with scholars from Temple University, Stanford University, and other institutions. He has published several scholarly research articles and presented multiple conference papers. Seven research projects have been featured on National Public Radio’s Academic Minute. Recently he was a co-PI recipient of a prestigious $100,000 National Endowment for the Humanities, Humanities Connections grant for Reimagining Entrepreneurship: An Integrated Pathway for Creative and Ethical Venturing. In addition, NYSTEC recently donated $25,000 for supporting his entrepreneurial Initiatives and related research at the College of Business Management. Shortly after arriving at SUNY Poly, he launched a community-based experiential learning, research, and service program that brings InnovationChallenge New York (ICNY) events to the Upstate New York region. Since then, he has organized a total of five ICNY iterations with varied topics, students, and locations. In October of 2017, he presented his co-authored empirical quantitative research paper, Reimagining entrepreneurship: Design culture exposure as a positive mediator for entrepreneurial capacity, at the International Atlantic Economics Society’s Montreal Conference (paper currently under peer review for publication). He was awarded “Campus Connector” designation by Upstate Venture Ecosystems Awards in 2016.

Dr. Edgell received his PhD in international multicultural management (magna cum laude) from the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland. He holds an MBA from Columbia University Business School in the City of New York and a five-year Bachelor of Architecture from Kent State University, College of Architecture and Environmental Design. Through Columbia’s Chazen Institute of International Business, he studied at Erasmus University, Rotterdam School of Management in The Netherlands. He is a registered Architect and has studied at Harvard University, Graduate School of Design.

Meaningful Transparency

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Increasingly leaders are declaring that they will act with greater transparency. However, are all forms of transparency equal? Through our research, we found that transparency ranges from “Selective” to “Meaningful”.

Leaders operating with Selective Transparency maintain power and information control, often on the basis of prudent competitiveness arguments. These leaders influence perceptions through the careful and selective distribution of information and pre-determined meanings. They limit and prioritize discourses with the various groups by withholding or hiding select information, thus maneuvering    stakeholders’ willingness to adopt changes. While convenient, this unilateral approach is more likely to create information asymmetries and, thus, insufficient development of shared meanings. Long-term, this may produce changes that erode constituents’ happiness and perceptions of benefits. 

In contrast, leaders choosing Meaningful Transparency guide their organizations and others to share information and power among diverse constituencies. These leaders intentionally engage in broad discourses with groups, intending to create emergent shared meanings. Although more effortful, this collective approach challenges assumptions, creates information symmetries, and thus addresses the difficulties of imperfect information. This leads to more broadly shared meanings and greater long-term constituent comfort and benefit.

So the next time your leader mentions transparency, you might want to ask which type.

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