Every year in Perkins Eastman’s senior living practice, we prepare for our annual strategic plan at the end of summer. During this time, we reflect on the current year and begin turning toward the next.

Two years ago at our strategic planning gathering, that process of reflection conceived what we call the Clean Slate Project, a year-long research effort to explore our industry through fresh eyes by studying the wide variety of disruptive forces coming from outside the bounds of traditional “senior living.” That research then allowed us to project hypothetical scenarios for the year 2030 that tapped into markets not currently being served by more traditional forms of senior living.

It’s been several months since we started presenting our findings to audiences both inside and outside the senior living space, and having conversations with those audiences has both affirmed our existing thinking and sparked additional ideas. After reflecting on what we’ve learned, we’d like to share the three major themes that encapsulate a variety of conversations we’ve had with many of you and your colleagues in response to the Clean Slate Project.

The future is passing us in the fast lane.

One of the comments we heard from industry thought leaders both in person and in print after sending Clean Slate into the world was: “Some of these things are already happening.” In the months we spent compiling, publishing, and presenting our findings, we began to see many of the ideas in the report zoom past us, well ahead of schedule.

Some are eerily similar to the Clean Slate scenarios, such as a proposal to redevelop a shopping mall in upstate New York into a senior living community, or an MIT student who developed a home-sharing app for students and seniors.

Other findings support the tenets of those scenarios, such as a move toward the vibrant context of urban settings, exhibited in Benchmark’s active adult development in Center City Philadelphia. Although it has been exciting and rewarding to see these scenarios come to life, it also means that existing providers may have less time to adopt a Clean Slate mentality than we originally thought.

The competition is heating up.

Another prediction from the Clean Slate Project that has been affirmed over the past several months is that many of these new entries are coming from unlikely sources outside of the established senior living industry, such as Yakov Smirnoff following in the footsteps of Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville with his own destination senior living product.

If you don’t think bearded comedians from Branson, MO, are serious competition, how about Amazon and Google? Although Dr. Bill Thomas’s nationwide senior living tour with Amazon employees is old news, the past several months have produced new efforts from Google to revive its Google Health brand which, according to its own blog, aims to bring together groups that are “using AI [artificial intelligence], product expertise, and hardware to take on big healthcare challenges,” challenges that almost certainly include the baby boomers.

Not only is the number of competitors in the senior living space increasing, but their makeup and their available resources are changing in such a way that should cause existing providers to take notice.

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

A third theme we heard repeatedly is how much the Clean Slate Project points to the need for partnerships inside and outside the industry.

With the speed and quality of innovation now being applied to senior living, in addition to the size and sophistication of new competitors entering the marketplace, the idea that senior living providers will continue to be single sources for all aspects of delivering housing and services seems nearly impossible.

And, as it turns out, the players on the other side of the fence are just as eager for quality partners. Canyon Ranch announced earlier this year that it is searching for housing partners to serve as host sites for the delivery of its exceptional wellness brand. Partnerships like this are not only a competitive necessity in the future senior living marketplace; they also help address one of the biggest challenges facing boomer perception of our industry: senior living as an age-segregated world that is totally separate from everyday life.

What does your organization’s clean slate look like?

As senior living organizations continue to grapple with changing market conditions, a Clean Slate mentality asks just as many questions as it answers:

  • How can the senior living industry seize the opportunities that seem to be zooming past us faster than we can recognize them?
  • How do we respond to competitors who are in a different “weight class?”
  • How can we turn that mismatch into an opportunity through strategic partnerships?

When we at Perkins Eastman get together this winter to talk about what’s coming in the next year, these and many other questions coming from the Clean Slate Project will be on our minds. We hope that this project gives your organization similar food for thought, and we look forward to facing these challenges head-on as outside forces continue to shape our rapidly evolving industry in the coming years.

Max Winters is a planner and architect with Perkins Eastman, a co-author of the Clean Slate Project and a member of the Perkins Eastman’s Research in Practice group. You can download the report from the Clean Slate Project here.