By Steve Moran

As much as I love all you senior living salespeople that I got to hang out with at Empath 2021 in Santa Barbara, the big draw for me was author, podcaster Malcolm Gladwell. I confess to being a bit of a “fanboy”.

His entire talk was wrapped around the story of another Malcolm, Malcom McLean who is the guy that invented containerized shipping. His reinvention of how to ship things made him wealthy and has had a dramatic positive effect on each one of us today. Because of what he invented, the things we purchase are less expensive and get to us faster than they would otherwise.

What he did was “Disruptive” in every sense of the word.

Three Steps

We all kind of know that disruption is mostly good for society, but we struggle with how to make that happen in senior living. There is lots of debate about whether senior living has ever been disrupted or has evolved over time through a relatively low-risk series of evolutionary steps.

Here are the things that McLean did to turn shipping upside down and there may be some serious lessons for senior living:

  1. He looked at the problem differently – Rather than seeing small discrete problems that needed to be fixed, he took the approach that the end-user needed products faster and at a lower cost. He had to reinvent the whole system of shipping. It required a different kind of container that could be loaded while sitting on the ground, then loaded on a truck (a new kind of truck), then moved from the truck to the ship (a reconfigured ship and a different kind of crane to move the container).

    The whole system had to be redesigned, not simply made better incrementally.
  2. Look at the problem from the perspective of the customer –  As my father has walked through a nursing home stay and is walking the journey of a family friend’s life in an independent living community, I am more and more realizing that senior living is largely designed and programmed to serve the needs of the operator and staff rather than the consumer.

    Who would imagine that it would be that hard to get pain medications or to get a late lunch after church every week?

    We need to start with who the customer is. The resident for sure, but also the family member who is making the decisions. I would even argue it is bigger than that. It is the local marketplace community and the entire nation, your nation.

    Who is the customer? Maybe our customer is something bigger than the resident, the resident family, the nation (your nation), and society.

    Once we define the customer we need to ask what problem we are solving. And, mostly, we either get it wrong or don’t really address it at all. We do provide food, care, activities, transportation, but those are not the problems we solve. The problems we solve include peace of mind and guilt resolution for family members. We solve the problem of low quality of life for residents. The reason we struggle with looking at it this way is that we could very well come to the conclusion that the solutions don’t involve senior living communities. A pretty scary thought!
  3. A sense of urgency – When talking about urgency we are talking about the urgency for the mission, not for tasks big or little. Imagine what senior living would be if we said that in six months or a year we are going to transform what it means to grow older; to serve the needs of residents, their families, and society.

This is only the first step because every bit as hard is figuring out what to do. What would you do if these three things were burned into your brain?