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 (
This version was compiled for the wider public; company-specific ones hosted within an Internal System of Record.
|Role||Founder, 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")|
|Domicile||New York, NY & Block Island, RI.|
"All models are wrong, some are useful."
|Personal Website||michaelgruen.com (You are here)|
Preferred Working Style
I thrive in two diametrically-opposed environments:
- Hermetically-sealed boxes (sound-proofed offices with doors)
- 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.
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:
- doing deep work
- in a meeting, interview, or other face-to-face exchange
- out of the office (attending a conference, meeting with customers, on PTO, etc.)
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:
- Meeting days are typically Mondays and Tuesdays
- Recurring meetings are scheduled Tuesdays to avoid the entirely-avoidable “Monday’s a holiday week so now I’m double-booked today and tomorrow” rigmarole. It’s madness.
- Deep work days are typically Wednesdays and Thursdays
- Long-format (90+ minute) recurring meetings are typically on Wednesday afternoons (fortnightly) and Thursday mornings (monthly).
- Fridays are protected and unstructured.
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.)
|High||Slack||Whatever means necessary|
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:
- Please book the shortest meeting length that is comfortable and un-rushed. Experience tells me this is about 25 minutes for most things, 50 minutes for longer topics, and 100 minutes for in-depth discussion / exploration. When in doubt, schedule 25 minutes.
- I maintain daily working hours in Google Calendar and leave my work computer at the office. (Unless traveling, of course.)
- Out of the office, I am always on-time and usually the first to arrive at parties. At work, circumstances often keep me from being punctual. To that end, if I am late, the probability for which is inversely correlated to how many people I’m meeting with. (More people, more prompt.) I try my damnedest not to be tardy, but during the work day, sometimes my calendar is not my own. I am actively working to address this.
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.
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:
- E-mails that require a response longer than 30 seconds are flagged for followup. Under 30 seconds are responded to on-reading.
- Of those flagged e-mails:
- ~20% are redirected (forwarded, delegated, etc.)
- ~20% are returned within 24 hours
- ~15% are returned within 10 business days
- <1% are held on to for future use
- Everything else is read and/or ignored
- I consider Slack messages and e-mails as conversation and notification, not official record. While Slack messages get more intraday attention, these systems are handled at the same priority level and are triaged in this general order:
- Short slack messages, short e-mails, long e-mails, (almost everything else), long slack messages.
- Long e-mails and long slack messages are both flagged for followup. I run through flagged e-mail messages far more frequently than slacks.
I greatly prefer all official and project communication to exist in a System of Record.
Note: A dispatch on Systems of Record coming soon.
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:
- my direct reporting line, and
- 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:
- How is it going?
- How can I help?
- 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.
A non-ordered list of things that ruffles my feathers, but not enough for me to say something in-situ.
- Using speakerphones on remote meetings. (Please use a good headset! Bluetooth 4.1+ with noise-cancelling mic preferred.)
- Don’t just say “hello” on Slacks/DMs.
- Kowtowing, brown nosing, etc.
- Breaking focused flow-state, interruptions for inconsequential topics. (Exception: if there’s an ice cream truck involved, I should always be interrupted.)
- Note that, particularly during longer conversations, topic threads can get messy, nested, and meta. We may find ourselves in digressions that, at the time, may seem like distractions but are, in fact, good practice. No, what I mean by breaking flow-state is when solo or with a group is when an outside influence (person) distracts us from our collective presence. While expected in social settings, it can be incredibly expensive during work sessions.
English needs an antonym for “Pet Peeve”. Until then, Delights it is.
- Promptness. Showing up on-time. Being present.
- When meeting with me, getting right down to business. If meeting with a larger group, stating the agenda, goals, and outcomes. (I mentally time-box smalltalk to about 2 minutes.)
- For communicating ideas: Document/Memo > E-mail > Meeting > DMs.
- Work queues and process documents. (I like systems.)
- Using data to describe state and demonstrate progress.
- New approaches to hackneyed ways; resourcefulness.
What I bring to the table.
- Integrity. Internalize and exhibit strong principles, ethics, consistency, and accountability.
- Ownership. Assume responsibility; know that decisions and actions affect others. Own those consequences.
- Outcome-oriented: Drive outcomes over activity. (Although, deliberate action follow-through is often required!)
- Data-driven. Live an evidence-based lifestyle. (I borrowed this phrase from my wife.)
- Transparency. Operate in the open. (Sunlight is the best disinfectant.)
- Growth. Seek abundance. See also: Developing a Growth Mindset - Dweck
- Systems-thinker. My mind thrives in spaces described by this wikipedia article.
- Agile and flexible. Not that all things need change, but there’s almost always room for improvement and I tend to drive towards it.
- Articulate. I’ve been told I’m a strong communicator and decent presenter.
- Perceptive. I listen good, too.
- Leans optimistic. In the half-empty/half-full sense, I’ll state the glass is at half-capacity and focus on the potential for capacity, not its fullness.
- Does the work. I’ve learned to eat my vegetables.
- Coachable. I take criticism, feedback, and suggestion well, with some caveats (see Known Weaknesses).
- Vocal and Opinionated. I need to get better at small talk. Whether strongly- or weakly-held, stating impassioned opinions sometimes gets me into trouble.
- Overclocked Metronome. I grew up in a land of fast-talkers, and I still struggle to talk at what most people consider a normal pace. On that, I still haven’t quite mastered proper speech timing in distributed meetings. I frequently step on/interrupt other speakers. (Sorry about that!)
- Strong-willed. Unless advice or help is solicited, I sometimes bristle when being told what to do and how to do it. (Related in Strengths: Coachable.)
- Repetitive Tasks. Filling out forms, particularly with redundant information, and especially with personally-identifiable information, is pure punishment to me—and the result of years of bad karma in failing to automate these systems. I’ll do them (see strength: Does the work), but it comes at the expense of later productivity and/or willpower. See also: The Myth of Sisyphus.
- Easily distracted. See also: § Preferred Working Style.
- Doesn’t like being wrong. But what I hate even more is continuing to be wrong—please correct me!
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!