Patrick R. Riccards, CEO of Driving Force Institute, is a story teller at heart. He exudes his profound dedication and unwavering drive to break down the walls between the past and the future, facilitating new ways of teaching American history to the new generation.
Driving Force Institute, a passion project for Patrick, was conceptualized to transform the teaching and learning of history. The institute thrives to make history learning interesting and relevant for the teenage audience by exploring untold narratives that resonates with the classroom.
Being an innovator himself, Patrick has embraced new opportunities and innovation, leveraging the available tools and resources to challenge the status quo, while pushing boundaries and achieving what seemed impossible. The CEO Views is pleased to recognize Patrick as one of the Innovators of the year 2023. We interacted with him to gain insights into how he drives innovation to education.
CEOViews: How would you describe the current state of the American education landscape? What major trends or developments are you observing?
Patrick R. Riccards: The teaching of American history is now messier and more controversial than it ever has been. Some try to be very selective in what they teach, try to stick to events and dates that won’t rock the boat or instigate an angry parent or school board member. We actually take the opposite approach. We embrace the messy, telling the stories that may be too controversial or radioactive for the classroom. We take on stories that are embraced by half the population, while being condemned by the other half.
We believe in telling the full history, both because it is our obligation and it is what today’s learners want. If we share a story that makes your blood boil, I guarantee you we have another that you’ll embrace with all your positive emotions. We don’t whitewash history. We tell it in full technicolor, with all of the flaws and shortcomings that make our nation’s history as meaningful as it is.
CEOViews: What challenges do you want to address through the inception of Driving Force Institute?
Driving Force Institute, a passion project for Patrick, was conceptualized to transform the teaching and learning of history.
Patrick R. Riccards: Years ago, I did a national survey of high school students, which revealed that today’s learners find American history to be both boring and irrelevant. As the son of a presidential historian, I was raised on history and its significance. I started the Driving Force Institute to transform the teaching and learning of history, providing short, provocative films that could spark an interest in history in even the most dispassionate student.
There is nothing more powerful than taking two minutes of time to share the story of a person, an event, a place, or an artifact with a young learner, and having them ask why that wasn’t in their history books. There is nothing more inspiring than having those same learners begin to think like historians, asking questions, pushing back, and demonstrating the sort of critical thinking they need to succeed as adults. That’s what the Driving Force Institute is all about.
We aren’t looking for students to memorize names and dates. We are using short-form films to inspire, to intrigue, and to motivate. And it is working.
CEOViews: What strategies do you employ to stay competitive and relevant in such a rapidly evolving sector? How has your company approach evolved over the last few years?
Patrick R. Riccards: The Driving Force Institute was actually inspired by rejection. I was incubating a history learning initiative at a former job, and that employer decided there was no future in it. They ended the initiative and eliminated my job in the process. I believed in what was possible. A mentor of mine regularly tells me that, “if I can dream it, I can do it.” I took that to heart.
I believed that we could make American history interesting and relevant to today’s learners. We just had to deliver content in a way that those learners want to consume. They don’t want dusty old textbooks like their parents or grandparents used. They want engaging, interesting content. So, despite the initial rejection, we moved forward, developing content that was interesting to both educators and students.
We failed often in the early stages, but failed fast and learned from each of those setbacks. Today, we are reaching more than 50 million users. We are partnering with top brands like the Smithsonian, New York Historical Society, American Battlefield Trust, White House Historical Association, and many others. We are working with state departments of education to develop content aligned with their needs. And we are showing that American history is interesting and relevant to all.
CEOViews: To what do you attribute your success?
Patrick R. Riccards: We are opening minds to the full history of our nation, the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Through video, we are sharing the untold stories in American history, stories that connect our past to today’s learners. We are providing educators with rich learning content that shows the role that women and the BIPOC community played in the development of our nation. We are telling stories that are important, but too often not found in history books. More importantly, we are providing launch pads for learners to have real discussions on our history and its meaning.
Our Untold History initiative isn’t about doing well in a trivia contest. It is about equipping individuals to be better learners, better thinkers, and better citizens.
CEOViews: Can you discuss the importance of innovation and research in the education industry today? How does your organization foster a culture of innovation?
Patrick R. Riccards: We aren’t the first company to use video to improve instruction. But we are using the technology in different ways, providing chunks of learning that can be used to launch a class discussion, inspire questions, or trigger an informed argument. History doesn’t only have to be taught through a traditional textbook. If we want to show the relevance of American history, we need to ensure that the delivery is as relevant as the content. So, we use the technology to meet learners where they are and how they choose to consume information.
When we first launched the Driving Force Institute, I had a vison of producing short-form films that would inspire high school students to share stories virally. But It took a little time for me to realize that that would never happen. But what could happen was we could create content that those same students loved, films that were embraced and used by millions of educators in their classrooms.
TODAY, WE ARE REACHING MORE THAN 50 MILLION USERS.
CEOViews: American history has a significant impact on society. How does your organization prioritize in bringing inclusive history to students and classrooms, and that resonates with teenage audience?
Patrick R. Riccards: At my heart, I am a storyteller. It is that attribute that is at the center of our work at the Driving Force Institute. The average high schooler spends more than two hours a day consuming video content on YouTube and TikTok. In those two hours, they are watching more than 63 unique pieces of content. At Driving Force, we meet these learners where they are. If they want to learn in two- minute bites, we provide them the best two-minute bites of history possible. It isn’t about what I want today’s learners to know. It is about providing roadmaps to what they both want to learn and need to learn.
CEOViews: What do you see as the future of the industry? How do you plan to position your company to thrive in that future?
Patrick R. Riccards: In three years, the United States will be celebrating its 250th birthday. We prepare for this anniversary knowing we are living in a nation where too few know the history of those 250 years.
Over the last three years, we have shown, with the help of partners Makematic and The DoGoodery, the power of short films to tell the untold, yet important, stories in American history. We’ve produced 500 films that are accessed by 50 million users. Over the next three years, we are excited to take on, with some terrific partners, a new initiative to teach the essentials of American history. There is no better way to celebrate our nation’s 250th birthday than to present its learners with the gift of a comprehensive video curriculum of what happened in those two and a half centuries, and why today’s learners should know it, understand it, and care about it.
CEOViews: If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out, what would it be?
Patrick R. Riccards: Approach every professional opportunity not for what it is today, but for whether it provides you the canvas to create and build what you dream to achieve. Study and learn from other industries. Gain lessons from past failures. Use rejection to inspire and motivate. Most importantly, ensure that thinking is simply the first step on the path to doing, improving, and succeeding. Teddy Roosevelt once declared we need to “dare mighty things.” That’s what this work, particularly social entrepreneurism, is all about.