4/16/2008

MVP Summit -- and a Lesson from Chief Seattle

"Day and night cannot dwell together." -- Chief Seattle

 

The MVP Summit in Redmond / Seattle this year is proving to be valuable, at least to me. I've been focusing mostly on the tracks around Silverlight and where it's going, and it appears to me that this product is going to evolve quickly into  a killer platform that will be capable of producing enterprise - level browser based applications that do video, high-powered vector graphics /animation, and data access including ws* SOAP, REST, HTTP, TCP and even UDP transports, LINQ,  and can handle cross - domain calls with the appropriate security xml files in place. DataBinding is done, and there's more coming which will show up in the next Beta coming -- well -- let's just say "sometime soon".

But the best lesson was one we learned in real life at Maggiano's in Little Italy in Bellvue, in a building hosting a Microsoft office and where the language groups dinner was held for all the VB.NET, C#, SQL and other MVP's.  It was a lesson about the importance of communicating with your customer and how learning to think "outside the dogma" is a real sign of leadership.


I'll explain. We took the bus from the Microsoft Campus to Bellevue, and walked into Maggiano's, which is a large sort-of high end classic Italian restaurant. There were wine and beer, an open bar, and an assortment of excellent hor's d'oevres, buffet style, to get you started.  I, Robbe Morris, Bill Jones and Ken Spencer sat down at a small booth-style table in the room adjoining the bar and began enjoying our drinks and having a wonderful, lively conversation.

After we had been at our table for some 45 minutes the trouble started. A waiter / manager type came up and told us we would have to move  because they couldn't serve us food at our table.  We immediately decided that this was rude and somewhat customer-unfriendly since there was no visual or other indication at this table when we first sat down to indicate this. Besides, everybody had already been seated and it didn't look like there were 4 seats together for our group. So we determined we'd take a stand.  After all, this table was in the same room where all the MVPs were being served, the only difference being it was smaller and not pushed up against others in a long row. Otherwise, there was no difference at all to a server; the aisle between our table and the long rows of larger tables where most MVPs were seated provided equal access to a server with no visible impediments.

Well, it didn't work out well at first. We ran up against the "Manager Mentality" dogma of "no, we cannot / will not change, this is the way it is, and tough titty on you if you don't like it".  I took a stand and told the manager that we weren't going to move and that we expected to be served just like everybody else, at the table we'd been sitting at for some 45 minutes.  We got no response. They decided to give us the "Ignore" treatment.

Raj, one of the Microsoft presenters, who was present at the dinner, came over and offered to intercede on our behalf. I don't know what he said, but I think he mentioned that Microsoft was spending upwards of $40,000 to entertain it's MVPs and would they please break with protocol and serve us.

After another 45 minutes with everybody at the main tables already into their main course, we still hadn't been served. It was at this point that I found out there was another small group seated at a booth just outside the kitchen that had a problem similar to ours. They were just now being served their dinner - apparently the manager thought that they were us and believed he had met his obligations. So finally, we got that straightened out and we got our food. Shortly thereafter, we were told that Microsoft had asked to have the bar opened for us to have "anything we want" - a nice touch.

So, with a Grey Goose martini (up, with two olives) in hand, I had a chance to enjoy the last of my companionship with my tablefellows and we made our way back to the hotels.  The food was great, the drinks were great, but we all learned the lesson preached by great Chief Seattle in his speech of 1854:

Don't fight the White Man. We will move to the reservation.  Seattle was explaining to his people that sometimes you need to suspend dogma in the name of good relations.

It's a lesson that we all should learn when dealing with customers. Sometimes it is more expedient and sensible to break with protocol, stick a plate of Lasagna on the errant customer's table, and avoid conflict in the name of good customer relations. It is usually not a big deal to learn to do this, you just need to learn to stop thinking like a robot and start using your, er - noodle.