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Robin Winslow
Robin Winslow

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Peter's parting principles

Originally published on my blog.

My boss and mentor of over 8 years, Peter Mahnke, moved on from Canonical two months ago.

Peter has led the web & design team in one form or another for the best part of a decade. He's watched it grow massively in size, responsibilities and ambitions, And every team member still carries a lot of respect and affection for Peter.

On his last day, Peter dropped 10 pearls of wisdom for success and fulfilment at work. I think they are great advice, and really capture the essence of what made him a unique and subtly effective leader.

Here's a link to his presentation (I've only removed photos). I'm also listing each point below, with a little extra commentary of my own:

Take notes

The person that takes the notes is the person people go to and gets to set the actions

Writing things down is powerful, and sorely needed. A meeting with no record is lost in the fog of the past, wasting everyone's time. If you take notes, a few things happen:

  • everyone is grateful to you
  • you become the authority on the meeting
  • your understanding of the meeting becomes the official record of the meeting

Make friends

People move in their careers a lot these days, make friends immediately and keep friends after they leave.

This is something Peter was always much better at than me. He showed clearly how being surrounded by friends makes work much more enjoyable. He also knew so many people across the company, and so he was plugged into all the movements within the company and all the gossip.

And when they left Canonical, he always kept in touch, which had the side effect of giving him useful insight into many other digital teams.

Be happy

Love what you do, make that environment great.

We spend a third of our life working. It's worth finding things that you love in your work, or changing your work into something you love. Believing in the work you do is the way to make something great, and to make the environment great around you.

If your work seems dull, or you question its usefulness, or you think it's fundamentally bad, you're probably not alone. Overall everyone from the company to its customers to your colleagues would probably be better off if they were building something that everyone believed in. So don't put up with doing work that doesn't inspire you. Find the value in your work and nurture what's valuable.

Push yourself

Always learn, always try new things.

I believe as humans we're most fulfilled when we're exploring and learning. There are always opportunities to learn new things.

Slow down

We often set our own crazy pace, be more considered in your work and thoughts.

This is one I've been feeling and seeing more and more. What matters in the long run is not breakneck productivity, it is careful, well thought-out solutions to problems that form a solid foundation. Our industry has been brought up on "move fast and break things", but that has never been the way to build lasting value.

Slowing down, working at a manageable pace is good for our mental and physical health, but is also the way to build lasting value.

What rules

There are no ‘rules’, be willing to change the way you work and the way you think.

I love this one. Remember that the social structures, hierarchies and norms around you, that may be restricting you, are flexible. Many of them are in your own head, others are simply habits people have formed that no-one thought to question. Maintain a flexible attitude towards these rules.

Don't be scared to reach out to anyone you like anywhere in the company. It may feel taboo, but they'll probably be open to having a chat. If you want to go and read what another team has been up to, go ahead. Would you like to contribute to something someone else is working on? Just ask. Don't imagine restrictions that may not be there.

Do less, better

More is just more.

To me, this is similar to the "slow down" point, but I think Peter meant this with more of a focus on content and features. This is Basecamp's "build less" mantra. Don't just churn out features, or content. Try to keep your product or output focused on the things you can do really well. Communicate succinctly, solve the user's problem as directly as possible. Avoid feature-creep and over-engineering.


Take time to analyse, reflect and sometimes say sorry.

Give yourself space to think about things. Take walks, naps, chats with friends. As many breaks as you can build in. This can give you the space to realise that you were reacting emotionally or unfairly to something, and give you the self-reflection to apologise or otherwise find a different, more harmonious way forward.

Give and take criticism

It might be hard, but this is how we all learn.

A continuation of the point above, true growth comes from working through discomfort. Be candid with your colleagues, and invite criticism. When you hear it, try to take it on board, analyse it with an open mind, and grow from it. This is the way to truly improve.

Be present

Put down the phone, hands off the keyboard, listen and talk.

Focus on people. Give discussions your full attention.

In meetings and when talking to people, try to be truly present. If you're distracted in a meeting, why are you there in the first place? If you don't need to listen in a meeting, it would be better to decline the meeting and focus on your work.

I really appreciated this advice. It also really captures Peter's attitude as a colleague and leader: be friendly, talk to everyone, make it fun, be considered, be deliberate

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