There are three ignored problems in our industry . . . do you know what they are?

By Steve Moran

I just started reading the book Creativity Inc., Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand In The Way of True Inspiration written by Ed Catmill, the foundar of Pixar. In a few pages I had half a dozen things highlighted. This particular quote from the introduction really hit home:

“What makes Pixar special is that we acknowledge we will always have problems, many of them hidden from our view; that we work hard to uncover, even if doing so means making ourselves uncomfortable and that, when we come across a problem, we marshal all of our energies to solve it.”

Senior Living – The No Problem Business

Okay maybe not quite a ”no problem business.” but as businesses go, it has been a pretty easy ride the last five or six years. Once we started to emerge from the recession, almost every single building has filled at or near the projected rate, with many filling much faster. Challenges, yes:

  • Entitlements are hard work

  • Financing for at least some is a chore

  • Finding and retaining staff is not so easy

  • Residents are demanding

  • Marketing and sales are expensive

Sure, all of that is true, but there is hardly anyone who is not making buckets of money . . . if we are honest. I am a capitalist and I applaud making buckets and buckets of money, so this is not criticism. In fact, along with making buckets of money, the industry is providing a phenomenal service to elders and their families. On top of that, they are providing as many as tens of thousands of high quality entry level jobs.  

The Trap

The relative trap we as an industry fall into is the sense that we don’t have any big problems. I would like to suggest three hidden or ignored problems that we have. Some can only be tackled at the community or company level, others can and should be tackled by the industry. They are problems that, as Catmill puts it, we should “marshall all our energies to solve”:

  1. The lifestyle most senior communities offer residents is purposeless and results in a lack of will to live, high rates of depression and more rapid cognitive decline. As a result, we have shorter lengths of stay and a tougher time keeping communities full. I believe we could solve the new 89% occupancy standard by fixing just this one problem.

  2. Hardly anyone wants what we are selling. This is also true of the funeral industry, but unlike the funeral industry, our consumers have choices. They can choose to do nothing or home care or co-housing and it is likely we will see new alternatives coming from outside the industry.

  3. Even with room for improvement, what we sell is pretty cool for most seniors; however, we don’t do a very good job telling our story. Our industry trade associations should be telling stories about seniors who live in our communities and have extraordinary lives. Stories about seniors who are still working, volunteering, creating, doing the ordinary things of living like going to the theatre, shopping and out to lunch and dinner.

There are likely more that are pervasive in the industry and on top of those each company will have their own.

What would you add to the list? How would you go about solving these?