We met on an unseasonably warm day at the Webster Groves Starbucks. Bill greeted me with a warm smile as we sat down to a Venti Blonde Roast and a Green Tea Frappucino. I attempted to deal with chunks of ice blocking the suction of my straw, while he pretended to ignore my antics and told me about his work at Maritz.
Bill studies and coaches companies in persuasive design, which is exactly what you think it is, helping people get what they want in the context of your business. If you have ever worked for a large company, you know that they are typically inward focused. What do we do? How do we make people buy (or sell) our stuff? How do we make employees do what we want them to do? That’s all wrong. All companies, Bill says, should be outwardly focused. “That pushing people to do things you want them to do, works in the short run. But eventually people find somebody who’s easier to work with. But when you start with what people want, it becomes a lot easier. It’s kind of the Steve Jobs philosophy. Create something great and you can charge a lot for it. Don’t make crap and then trick people into buying it.” Who knew? Persuasive design is actually an entire industry and Bill has been studying and preaching it since 1997.
The path to his current career was a varied one. It started when he was studying theatre at Fontbonne. “Theatre I think is one of the best backgrounds a person can have. Theatre is an absolutely fantastic, uh, discipline to experience. It really prepares you for what life is really like.” While it taught Bill a lot about presenting to an audience, he left and joined the Navy after only two years.
It took a little longer for him to leave the Navy. Seven years, to be exact. When he was required to do shore duty for two years as a mental health break, he couldn’t take it. Couple that with the fact that he was now married with 4 kids, it was time to look into doing something else. So, Bill worked in computer programming, started a publishing company and went back to college for a degree in Business Administration.
Between spending time with his family (5 adult kids) and shoveling snow UP the steepest driveway in the St. Louis area, Bill writes three blogs. One, called Simple Strategies is about “the science of getting better” and another is about Persuasive Design. He’s been published, too. Up to now his publications have mostly been political in nature including Zen Conservatism in 2008 and a book on social media marketing for political groups in 2011. He toyed with his Starbucks mug as he thought aloud about what he would like to write next. “I… I still want to finish one of the 964 works of fiction, I’ve started working on…” He laughed contagiously.
Everyone hates their own voice. Bill is particularly frustrated by his speech because he swears that he purposefully developed a stammer in college, but now he can’t get rid of it. He laughed while he explained. “I did it to myself! And it drives me up the wall! I honestly remember getting laughs with well-timed stammers. Then it just became part of me. I think what it was, I really liked Bob Newhart, Jimmy Stewart, a bunch of these people who were successful actors. Both of them had really pronounced stammers, but they used it especially for humor.”
Bill’s favorite thing about St. Louis? “So, I got a new car a few weeks ago and the first thing I did… I had to get a new Blues sticker!” I laughed, “who needs a license plate?” He sat at the edge of his seat as he animatedly told me the story about TJ Oshie (a Blues player, for those of you who are like me) scoring 4 out of 6 penalty shots during the Winter Olympics.
Finally, Bill keeps busy by actively staying involved in St. Louis politics. In fact, he was one of the co-founders of the St. Louis Tea Party. “It’s weird. It’s a weird existence and it’s a lot of work. It leaves me very little spare time.”
I'm not getting any younger! Time to sign-up for a free coffee!