It recently struck me that we have two parallel — but very different — senior living ecosystems both competing for the same residents.

By Steve Moran

I just returned home from the Senior Living Innovation Forum in Boca Raton, an event that is at or near the top of my favorite conference of the year. (Note: I do have a financial relationship with the organization) reflecting back on the two days of the conference it struck me that we have two parallel — but very different — senior living ecosystems both competing for the same residents.

I have struggled with how to name them: 

  • New vs. Old

  • Progressive vs. Regressive

  • New School vs. Old School

  • Innovators vs. Laggards 

Looking at the Differences

Far from satisfied that this is right, I am going to use the terms Old School, New School. These terms have nothing to do with either the age of the organization or the age of the leaders. There are some Old School folks who are quite young and new to the industry. There are some New School folks who work for organizations that have been around for decades and are in their 50s, 60s and 70s.   

It is all about attitude and approach. 

There is also a third group that no one notices, including — too often lately — me, which will be the subject of follow-up articles.

New School

The New School folks, and I would put myself in this category, are those people who are saying “we have a really cool industry, but there are a bunch of things that need to get better and I am all about figuring out what better means.” They are always exploring the latest technology, new ways of programing and how to build a better culture. You will hear them saying “That’s really cool . . . ” or “I tried . . . ” or “That didn’t work so well.” 

Their exploration is mainly in two areas technology and human capital. 

They know the Old School folks are out there — and even have respect for what they have done — but are pretty well convinced that the Old School operators are falling behind and will have serious problems in the future.   

Old School

Many of the Old School players have been around for a long, long time each time. They build a building, which is only a slight derivative of the building before. They are cautious about what they do, prefering old technology over new . . . or even no technology at all, whenever possible. They tend to operate with a top down approach. They value their employees, but are more comfortable with well defined roles and narrow limits. 

They tend to focus on real estate design, fine dining and controlling costs. They have been the last ones to embrace social media and have done so only because they had to. They also tend to do everything via policies and procedures, believing that standardization is the best way to ensure a consistently high quality product. 

They are also pretty skeptical of the New School folks, thinking the approach will come back and bite them. 

Both Approaches

Both approaches have organizations that are successful — and if we are honest some of the Old School folks started out many years ago as new school folks. Both approaches can lead to success or failure. They key is that the Old School folks actually can learn some things from the New School and the New School folks can learn some things from the Old School folks. 

Which are you?