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My User Guide

December 1, 2022


This document is a continuously-updated field guide to interacting and working with me in a professional capacity. Read more about my approach (and motivation) for Personal User Guides, or just ↓ jump right in ↓.

User Guide for Michael E. Gruen (v.2022-12-public)

This version was compiled for the wider public; company-specific ones hosted within an Internal System of Record.

Summary Details

key value
RoleFounder, Fractional CEO/CTO, Author
Endpoints(REDACTED. This is where my work aliases, @-names, and team-relevant e-mails go.)
Aliases"Michael", "Gruen", "MG" (Pronounced "Em-Gee")
ManufactureEnglewood, NJ.
DomicileNew York, NY & Block Island, RI.
Human LanguagesEnglish
Personality Tests "All models are wrong, some are useful."
Personal (You are here)

Preferred Working Style


I thrive in two diametrically-opposed environments:

  1. Hermetically-sealed boxes (sound-proofed offices with doors)
  2. Total bustle (cafés, Airport terminals, etc.)

Everything else is shades of terrible. When in flow states my sensorium is easily disrupted—open office plans are productivity death. Distraction vectors in decreasing order of severity: auditory, visual, tactile, olfactory, then gustatory.

The din of a busy room (say, a café) usually provides sufficient white-noise to maintain focus, but it is far less preferable to total environmental control.

It should surprise you not that my computer/phone are almost always set to “Do Not Disturb”. On that, I need to find an appropriate Andon notification to ensure interruptions are well-justified and, well, noticed.

Suggestions welcome.


Time-blocking is life. I do not maintain a to-do list as important tasks are scheduled. My first question, if something cannot be answered or done immediately, will be “when do you need it?” and if the answer is “soon” I will offer a specific time and hold myself to it.

“The show doesn’t go on because it’s ready; it goes on because it’s 11:30.”

Lorne Michaels via Tina Fey regarding SNL

General working hours: 08:30–18:00 Monday through Thursday, Eastern time zone, ebbing with the sunrise. Fridays I leave unstructured and meeting-free whenever possible. I’ll work late if on a roll and work early when excitable.

During scheduled time-blocks, I am generally slow to respond as I am:

Outside of working hours, I do not check e-mail (unless I’m waiting on something Very Important… which is about once or twice a year).

Most work weeks look like this:

Week-to-week, effort varies.

The last two decades of my career have been almost exclusively within startups and scale-ups: they are not quite marathons, not quite sprints. As I used to race bicycles, I find crits to be a helpful metaphor.


See Professional Toolkit.


The medium is the message. — Marshall McLuhan

How should I reach out?

(The following grid is meant for my teams, republished here. If you’re reading this and not actively working with me in another System of Record, e-mail is your best bet.)

Importance ↓
Urgency ↓      Low Medium High
Low Don't E-mail Slack
Medium E-mail E-mail Slack
High E-mail Slack Whatever means necessary

Synchronous Channels

Calendar Use

Please use my calendar link to schedule meetings as it will work around existing commitments. (Link available upon request.)

For my colleagues, there is better guidance within internal documents; however, the following might be helpful context for others:

E-mails and DMs

DMs are always open; I will respond if available regardless of whatever my status indicator flag says. Same goes for E-mails. (see § Asynchronous Channels for more.)

I offer no SLA on these channels.

Phone calls and text messages

My phone is always on Do Not Disturb unless I’m expecting a call or am on-call for an incident response or emergency. Same goes with text messages.

Use only on last resort and if of high-urgency and importance.

Asynchronous Channels

Meeting Pre-reads

I’m a big fan of meeting pre-reads. That is, work to be done prior to participants entering a meeting. In general, I find “brainstorming” meetings more effective if they are discussions about thoughts previously articulated rather than done live. (There extensive research suggesting this is a better approach all-around.)

Note: I have a longer piece on meetings philosophy queued to be written. Will link here when completed.


Observations on my inbox (e-mail and DM) behaviors:

I greatly prefer all official and project communication to exist in a System of Record.

Note: A dispatch on Systems of Record coming soon.

Communications Style

I am direct, often to a fault, and tend to dispense niceties in favor of getting down to business. This does not mean that I don’t care about who I’m speaking with or want to know how things are going. (I very much do, in fact!) More precisely, I’m very much focused on ideas, behaviors, and what’s next and often forget to ask, “How are you?”

On that, I am a non-reactive active listener. I try to focus on what people are telling me and tend to wait to absorb and digest information before responding, especially if it’s important. Throughout my life I’ve received feedback that this can make me “difficult to read”. Despite this, I am a squarely average poker player.

I tend to repeat myself. I do this in an attempt to be consistent in my messaging, and to ensure that the message is getting through. If I’m repeating myself to the point of annoyance, do point this out as it’ll signal to me that you’ve got the message. (I’m still going to repeat myself, but less frequently.) If I contradict myself, point that out too. I may have changed my position and forgot to tell you. (Sorry!)

I often choose $10 words when 30¢ ones will do. (Verily, eschewing grandiose verbiage remains a challen— ahem… er, uh I mean to say, “I’m working on it.”)

Work Philosophies and Style

My work demeanor hews advisor, teacher, and coach.


Decisions should be made at the commensurate level of responsibility and ownership.

For my part, I tend to decide at the last responsible moment. Sometimes it’s also the last possible moment, but not often. I don’t subscribe to any specific decision-making framework, but I find they all have their uses.

My decisions often include a tacit confidence interval. Depending on how new information affects that confidence, decisions may be revised. This happens rarely. I am (almost) always happy to unpack a decision upon request, assuming I’ve neglected to proactively do so.


The best approximation I’ve found to my management style is Servant Leadership. My success (and how my efficacy should be measured) is the collective output of:

  1. my direct reporting line, and
  2. my adjacent teams.

As a member of the executive team, this means I (and the C-suite) am measured by the output of my department and its efficacy in driving company output. Down-line, I expect my direct reports to use the same measuring stick.

Outside of performance reviews, 1-on-1s take the following form:

  1. How is it going?
  2. How can I help?
  3. Here’s some context/some suggestions that I think may be helpful.

These 1-on-1s are to ensure that my team has predictable and protected time on my calendar so I can help them be successful. To that end, I expect everyone on my team to own and drive the business within their scope.

Pet Peeves

A non-ordered list of things that ruffles my feathers, but not enough for me to say something in-situ.


English needs an antonym for “Pet Peeve”. Until then, Delights it is.

Professional Characteristics

What I bring to the table.

Professional Values

Known Strengths

Known Weaknesses

Blind Spots

In 2006, I added a Johari window to my AOL Instant Messager profile and, as was typical those days, people were more than happy to say what they thought of me—anonymously or not. It was super-helpful in identifying blind spots.

51% of people agree that Gruen is confident

Shortly afterwards, I added a Nohari window, which asks for faults, not talents. It was equally instructive.

58% of people think that Gruen is boastful
75% of people think that Gruen is smug

I’m hoping in the decade (or so) since running that survey I’ve evolved. Admittedly, I still have work to do. Please call me out on them as I, by definition, can lack self-awareness here. (Hence, still listed as a blind spot.)

Do you have addendums to the above strengths/weaknesses/blind-spots list? Do please let me know!


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