Meet The OEB2019 Speakers: Richard Straub

OEB Plenary Keynote Speaker Richard Straub is Founder and President of the Peter Drucker Society Europe and of the Global Peter Drucker Forum. He is also Associate Director of EFMD, a leading network of Business Schools and Corporations.

When he thinks about the future of education a quote from Peter Drucker (Landmarks of Tomorrow, 1959) comes to this mind: “Since we live in an age of innovation, a practical education must prepare a person for work that does not yet exist and cannot yet be clearly defined.”  Richard believes even though Drucker wrote this sentence 60 years ago, it is more relevant today than ever.

In his keynote presentation he will give his perspective how this challenge can be addressed by putting the human first and technology second.

Find out more about Richard through our “Meet the OEB2019 Speakers” questionnaire.

1. Who, or what, was your most important teacher?

No hesitation – it was Peter Drucker. During my IBM days a friend gave me the book The Post Industrial Society, which immediately caught my full attention with its historic perspective showing the transition from the industrial age to the knowledge society. I then found Drucker’s landmark article “Managing Oneself” which became a guideline for planning and shaping my own life, beyond the pure professional aspects. The concept of the phases of life and getting ready for them was particularly valuable for me. No wonder that “Managing Oneself” is one of the leading HBR classics.

2. What were your best/worst subjects in school?

I had quite balanced results in school – I am a generalist of sorts. However, I have a leaning towards the human and social sciences – philosophy, history and psychology. I love languages – English, French, German and some Italian. The latter I had to learn to follow Mozart’s Italian operas in the original.

3. If you could try out any job for a day, what would you like to try?

I should like to be president of a culture festival (Salzburg or Avignon, say) for a day… This is where management and the arts and culture in a broad sense converge.

4. Which technology, in your view, had the biggest influence on the way we learn now

Clearly the internet and World Wide Web and its derivatives. We have access to more trash and more high-quality information than ever before. We can connect with more people than ever too – people whom we hate or whom we admire. The technology as such doesn’t tell us what to do. It opens up opportunities and it bring new threats. It puts the individual in in charge of his or her own learning. Take Twitter as an example. Of course, you can be bombarded with fake news if you follow the wrong people. However, if you discover great thinkers whose views you think you can learn from, you can access the richness of their intellectual trajectory directly via their tweets and the links to important articles they provide. However, it becomes increasingly difficult for the individual to identify interesting thinkers and practitioners outside the mainstream. Without the right level of formal education, including critical thinking and broad cross-discipline knowledge, such choices will go wrong and people end up in tribal pockets where everybody says and thinks the same thing.

5. What is the coolest gadget / technology / tool you have seen lately?

The smartphone is an amazing tool – who would have thought 20 years ago that you would so much computing power and access to connections and knowledge in a gadget you carry around in your pocket?

6. What current learning trend do you think will have a lasting impact

Beyond the hype of the latest trends and gadgets, we need more than ever to get our mind around learning as a lifelong undertaking. In a fast-changing world fraught with complexity and unpredictability, lifelong learning becomes a task and a duty for those who want to fulfil a role of responsibility – even to themselves.


7. What would be the title of your autobiography?

A quest for practical reason and common sense: management as a school for life.

8. Who would you recommend in the Learning World to follow on social media right now?

My recommendations would be not be focused on learning experts (most of those interested in OEB know about them anyway), but rather on experts in management and leadership. As management moves from abstraction and grand theory forcefully into the realm of learning by engaging with reality and by experimenting (and failing), there are a number of advanced and interesting thinkers to choose from. I would single out people such as Julian Birkinshaw (providing the broader context for management and learning), Rita McGrath (learning for the unexpected), Tim Brown (applying empathy and learning from experiments/prototypes), Roger L. Martin (learning to think in an integrative way), Linda Hill (learning by abrasion), and Herminia Ibarra (learning to be crazy in a civilized way).

9. What was your first thought about OEB 2019’s overall theme: Discovering Learning

The first thing that came to mind was the famous Rainer Maria Rilke poem about living one’s life in widening circles – we have been here before. I remember it when I was Chief Learning Officer at IBM and President of the European Learning Industry Group. We saw the transition from a pure education paradigm to learning, and from formal to informal. Now we are back – albeit in a bigger circle. This is good, but we must yet justify our place in this bigger circle. This is what OEB 2019 will hopefully show.

10. What do you hope to take away from OEB?

Learning is not about the technical side – it is about being open and keen to learn continuously as a human. Never has there been greater opportunity to learn – but without the capability to make judgements and build on a solid foundation of basic knowledge across disciplines, the new pervasive and increasingly invasive technologies have more potential than ever to manipulate rather than to educate. I hope OEB will be able to strengthen this fundamentally human aspect of learning in the 21st century.

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