Like most of you, we have attended a lot of conferences, workshops and seminars since entering the “Senior Living” sector. As repeat attendees of The Annual Memory Care Summit and representing a graduate of The Erickson School, we have one single expectation from the UMBC Aging brand and team – delivery of academic and person-centered content that can “excite and delight” business as usual. We use that phrase intentionally because our own team has just finished a group read (on Audible – our go to “employee training” app) of Joseph Coughlin’s “Longevity Economy.” Coughlin, introduces – among several other things – the concept of “transcendent” design where we focus on developing consumer products that will excite and delight all ages and not seniors alone. He encourages all of us to embrace what we would consider a “strengths-based” approach – where we design products for ability and inclusive opportunity rather than trying to solve problems that only highlight deficits in the targeted end-user. This kind of thinking should apply equally to our planned communities and programming.
We are entering (or perhaps returning to) a new chapter in our Industry and culture where the curse of knowledge (in business and clinically) is being replaced by an emphasis on the fundamentals of imagination and relationship-building. What kind of future would we imagine, and then build, if we focused more exclusively on engaging across generations and sharing stories, experience and knowledge to that universal end?
Imagination vs Experience
If last year was about creating magical moments, and fine tuning company culture for sustained results, this year offered the charge to advance our Iconoclast Quotient (IQ) in recognition that while “Logic will take you from A to B, Imagination will take you anywhere.” Ideas and Interests are converging at an accelerated pace. If we want to offer health and wellness services to family, staff and residents, we will be required to meet our customers (all of them) wherever they are – and it will take the whole village to support their wants and needs effectively. In the past we have relied upon experience to light our path. In the immediate future we all need to be trailblazers of some degree.
Heroism and Incrementalism
In typical Erickson School fashion (this is the academic influence) a series of “pre-reading” materials were circulated via Dropbox to attendees – among these was a link from Bob Kramer of NIC to a recent New Yorker piece entitled “ The Heroism of Incremental Care” In the article, Atul Gawande shares an interesting metaphor surrounding the collapse of the Silver Bridge in 1967:
“The collapse signaled the need for a new strategy. Although much of the United States’ highway system was still relatively new, hundreds of bridges were more than forty years old and had been designed, like the Silver Bridge, for Model T traffic. Our system was entering middle age, and we didn’t have a plan for it.”
In this essay, emphasis was tied largely to the dichotomy of surgeons (heroes) and primary care physicians (incrementalists). For our purposes here, the relationship between outdated transportation infrastructure and our own bricks and mortar in Senior Living is key. We all know that we are developing products that are designed around realities/constraints and beliefs that are no longer relevant – like the Model T – and yet we still charge on without reconsidering the viability of our footings. It is worth emphasizing that EVERY time a guest speaker has joined the stage (we have been to four of the six events) they are emphatic about not wanting our “products or services.” We clearly need visionaries and iconoclasts to chart new courses for our Industry where we focus on engagement instead of behavior management alone.
5 Leadership Lessons from The Disney Institute
As leaders in the “Imagination” department, Mark Matheis offered the Disney Company’s’ perspective on how best to execute your plans once imagined:
- Leaders establish, operationalize, and sustain the values and vision by which their organizations thrive.
- Great leaders proactively establish values.
- The more a vision can be expressed in a vivid, imaginative way, the more it will motivate people to action in the present.
- Storytelling is an essential strategy for the communication of new ideas; people are more engaged and inspired by information presented through compelling narratives
- The best legacy is not one that is fondly remembered, but one that is actively emulated
Value is created when Silos Break down
In “What the Smart Money Wants from You,” Robert Kramer, Founder & Strategic Advisor to The National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care, shared Industry Data and offered his own insight toward three drivers that are influencing our vision and narrative for the future:
- The Longevity Revolution (Silver Tsunami)
- Data, Robotics and Mass Customization
- Healthcare Payment & Delivery Reform
In his engaging presentation, Bob Kramer offered his invaluable insight (replete with data metrics of course!) into the future of aging, how it is being redefined by emerging trends and the anticipated impact of “new retirees”. The later will be represented by “transitions” to encore professions as opposed to traditional retirement. Bob’s own circumstances are illustrative of this occurrence. Having been recognized as the CEO leader breeding the remarkable success of NIC as the premier research, educational and data source for the Seniors Housing & Care Industry, Bob now transitions to Chief Strategist for NIC. Undoubtedly he, like numerous other industry veterans, including the likes of John Erickson and Dr, Judah Ronch representing the Summit, will continue to influence and shape the future of aging. These are not declinists but rather industry treasures to engage and leverage.
The Declinist view of Retirement where seniors unplugged to enjoy their golden years is clearly outdated (like the Silver Bridge) and being replaced by a new emphasis on engagement where residents will want to be become integrated with the communities they choose in an intentional and productive way. As the “diaspora” of healthcare continues and senior services become “uberized,” it will become increasingly difficult to compete with the demand for full service and retail “life management” solutions. Lifestyle coupled with the presence of supportive care proving more intergenerational and “connected” will give rise to the trends of desire trumping needs. Where will we plug in to the new value equation as developers, operators, caregivers? Imagine a future of aging where business constituents are more “collaborative” than “competitive”. These trends are the leading indicators of integrative thinking (points from Dr. Ronch) and more integrated business models that emulate the real world.
Imagine a Cure for Alzheimer’s, Then What?
Scott Townsley’s session was centered around the assumption of a cure for Alzheimer’s. Whether or not a cure is on a horizon, this kind of open-ended / creative thinking enables us to focus on the survivable (or missing) attributes of our business and its offerings. Ironically, these attributes or amenities might actually define our core because they are likely “transcendent.”
The traps of quality and superiority were addressed where the former represents the sentiment that well established organizations don’t need to change (until it is too late) and the latter assumes that a premium offering will also maintain its hegemony – except that customers ultimately crave simpler, cheaper incumbents. The final ¼” drill trap presented echoed the detriments of Marketing Myopia where we forget that we are selling solutions not widgets. If we are struggling to identify our own value proposition as an organization, this exercise creates an opportunity to highlight (and work to close) the gap between what we think we are selling (i.e. memory care) and what the market wants to purchase for themselves or loved ones (valued relationships and engagement).
Awe – using art to create relationships
If you are not aware, The Erickson School strategically front-ends the program with business and academic content and reserves the final book-end for local guest speakers that can help to ground and synthesize our thinking (by tempering it) with the raw emotional reality of people and their own first-person caregiving stories. Just before these guests arrived, we were primed for the transition through Anne Basting and a re-telling of her incredible work. She relayed how her experience of introducing the transformational power of theatre to people with memory care issues enabled them to engage instead of being alone together.
It should not be surprising that an entertainment giant like Disney would proffer the same insights garnered from improvisational arts. Storytelling creates a safe space for everyone through abstraction – when you create an open environment, expression naturally fills the vacuum. What does this look like in the built environment? Or is architecture just a shell if it is filled with genuinely human activities? In any case, the challenge is not just how do we create a better physical space for Memory Care but rather, how can we establish a broader network of engaging human activities? We need life centers where everyone can thrive.
To echo Atul Gawande’s essay once more, “Our ability to use information to understand and reshape the future is accelerating in multiple ways.” He continues to describe that “we have at least four major data inputs that reflect our health and wellness over time, (1) information about the state of your internal systems (from your imaging and lab-test results, your genome sequencing); (2) the state of your living conditions (your housing, community, economic, and environmental circumstances); (3) the state of the care you receive (what your practitioners have done and how well they did it, what medications and other treatments they have provided); and (4) the state of your behaviors (your patterns of sleep, exercise, stress, eating, sexual activity, adherence to treatments).”
When you consider the scope of these inputs, it becomes clear that we will need more bandwidth to capture all of this data and make use of it in a meaningful way. It is unlikely that a sole “hero” provider will venture off into the forest and return with a miracle solution for Alzheimer’s or any other dis-ease. Of course, if you have eyes to see and ears to hear, we might already be the miracle we are searching for.
In this sixth year of the summit, we were all called to cultivate our iconoclastic quotient (IQ) so that the future we imagine is built on solid ground instead of crumbling foundations. We were also reminded that if engagement is the ultimate prescription, then we cannot succeed in isolation. Let’s take inventory of our respective strengths so that we can catalog and distribute the dimensional inputs of health and wellness together as due-diligence only. The shared moon-shot is to leverage the data and best practices to craft a new story about how we can age more actively and remain engaged together.