Leaving Smart Chicago for Ad Hoc

Today I am leaving my position as executive director of the Smart Chicago Collaborative to join Ad Hoc, a small software company that came out of the successful HealthCare.gov rescue effort. I will be joining Paul Smith, Greg Gershman, and the team they’ve built as director of business strategy & product development.

At Smart Chicago, I leave behind what is now an all-women team led by Kyla Williams, who will serve as interim executive director. Together, we’ve built a small, effective powerhouse of community technology.

I was handed a model organization— founding partners of the The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the City of Chicago, and The Chicago Community Trust. Centered in philanthropy, with the direct involvement of the municipal government, in a city with a fecund ecosystem ready to grow.

We’ve created programs that Chicago people love and that resonate across the country. Our Civic User Testing Group, which we invented out of whole cloth in 2013, has grown to more than 1,500 people. Now they’re spreading it across the country— join the CUTGroup Collective here.

We’ve built new brands like Youth-Led Tech, Connect Chicago, Smart Health Centers, Documenters, Expunge.io, Patterns, and Chicago School of Data. Created civic infrastructure like Open 311, Chicago Health Atlas, and Chicago Early Learning. Helped build new businesses, consultancies, and apps. We’ve cared about justice, and lived our principles, always. And we’ve never employed more than five full-time employees.


There is nothing like Smart Chicago.

And now, with Ad Hoc, I am going to help veterans get benefits and help uninsured people get coverage for the first time. I get to join great people— including a longtime friend and EveryBlock colleague— doing great things for millions of Americans.

I will be taking two weeks off before starting at Ad Hoc, and I am wide-open to hearing from people wide and far, especially if you have any stories about how Smart Chicago has affected you or what kind of things you’d like to see in health / gov software. Hit me up at @danxoneil or Le Email.

Lastly, here’s a short clip of me talking at the graduation celebration of our inaugural Youth-Led Tech, conceived with and funded by Get IN Chicago. I tell them that we love them and we’re never going to let them go. And I talk about how easy it is to say things like that, and how hard it is to create systems that deliver on it.

I will not be there for Youth-Led Tech this year. But due to the foresight and planning of Get IN Chicago, and the dozens of Roseland, Austin, and North Lawndale residents Kyla at Smart Chicago has hired to run things, the program has doubled.

Systems for love beat any one person who proclaims it.

My Journals, 2015

I hand-wrote 467 pages in various journals during  2015. This is actual pen-to-paper stuff. For years, I have been keeping five separate journal types going at any given time. I number each of the journals in order (Health Journal #14, Work Journal #46, etc.) and I try to be as honest and contemplative as possible as I write. Here’s a page breakdown and a general take on what I wrote:

Health Journal

I’ve kept this journal since I started my recovery from alcoholism. It’s where I write down facts about and what I think about the status of my physical, emotional, and financial health. I put everything from raw recitations of weight to plans for less spending. Over the last year I spent, believe it or not, circa $1,000 less of coffee than the year before. Just by planning and writing. I fucking love coffee.

Health Journal 14

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15 Years of Sobriety— All Hail Alcoholics Anonymous

Today marks 15 years of sobriety for me. I am not the most devout member of Alcoholics Anonymous, but I do try to practice these principles in all my affairs.

The “Big Book“, which is actually titled, “Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Recovered from Alcoholism” is one of the most influential texts of the 20th century and was created and edited by a process we now know as “crowdsourcing”.

The 12 steps of AA are radical and simple. The meetings themselves are an odd and wonderful combination of rote conformance (the recitation of the steps, the format of the talks) and completely unpredictable local variation. The result is we can walk into a room, anywhere in the world, and have an immediate fellowship and sense of purpose with others. This centralization of mission and decentralization of operations is the basis for myriad movements.

Here’s what works for me:

Continue reading “15 Years of Sobriety— All Hail Alcoholics Anonymous”

Billie Jean-Induced Crying Jags

Jeanne's Apartment, Night.Like many of my agnates who were teenagers in the 1980s, I have a a long musical relationship with Michael Jackson. I appreciate him.

And like most people all over the world, music is a nutty and mysterious trigger. Hearing AC/DC’s Hell’s Bells brings the scent of my friend Virgil’s 1980s basement space heater to my nostrils. Pretty much any U2 song has me in front of my TV watching Mary J. Blige singing One on the Grammys in 2006. I’ve adopted Teenage Dream as a love song for my wife, whom I met when we were in our 40s.

There doesn’t have to be a logic to all this. It’s music, and music is magical.

Billie Jean, a song that came out in 1982, has been forever adopted as a song devoted to controlled, mini crying jags over my mother, Jeanne M. O’Neil, who died last year. My family and I worked to bring her through her final months on Earth, as she suffered from a couple falls and the general deterioration of a brilliant 83-year old woman.

We covered the normal tasks that accompany these things— caregiver management, physical therapy help, nursing home research, talking to her & loving her, and then the journey through hospice.

It’s a lot of work. I love work. I thrived on the tasks. But on every Tuesday during this time period, late winter and early spring of last year, I’d wake up early and drive out to Winfield to get the kids to school. Then I’d exercise, clean up, and roam coffee shops in the western suburbs, working and taking calls in the current fashion of many a remote worker.

Getting away from the hospital rhythm and the language of medical wartime did something to me. So by the time I got my first vente skim latte, sat down at a small table, popped open the laptop and Outlook, I’d breathe out deeply.

With my earbuds in, and my Nike baseball cap down low, I’d put on Billie Jean. Turn it up to 11 and put my head down. The crisp start, the classic 8 beat, the snare that grabs, the entrance of every instrument. The lyrics were nothing, except for the misspelled “Jean”, which was all that mattered. The whole thing was just a cipher. My own code of grief and relief and exhale and steel for more. Four minutes and fifty three seconds of ear-bam.

Music is such a great jot of humanity.