Personal Story
[ April 1, 2020 by Somi Arian 0 Comments ]

How I learnt to constantly reinvent myself through Transition Architecture

People say, “hardship makes you resilient”!ship could also break you, I went to the verge of being completely broken and hit rock bottom several times in life. A skill that helped massively in getting through these difficult times was having the ability to successfully transition from them back to some level of stability. The trick is not to get too comfortable when you finally do gain that stability and to always be prepared for the next challenge and transition. Living in the 21st Century means that the speed of life is increasing, at the same time the web of our lives, our businesses, and even our health have become more interconnected than ever. In this article, I’m going to share a very personal story and my concept of Transition Architecture which I now apply to my business as we help other companies and individuals deal with digital transformation. I hope you find it helpful, especially as we all deal with the challenges brought upon us at this particularly difficult time in history.


Transition Architecture 


Many of you may know that I spent most of the last year writing a book about the Future of Work which is due to be released in 2020. With the advent of Covid-19, I feel everything I said in that book has become applicable much faster. I was predicting a five to ten year transition period, but this virus has greatly accelerated everything, and many of us haven’t been ready for it.


One of the ideas that I’ve introduced in the book is the concept of “Transition Architecture”. Although the book is not yet released, I decided to share the basic premise of this concept here as I think it will help many people and businesses in light of the recent challenges.


A New Role For The Future


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In the book, I wrote about a new role in society and in the Business and Career Landscape, that I predicted would arise in the coming years – I called it Transition Architecture. Due to the increased pace of Digital Transformation and with the impact of Artificial Intelligence, I argued that the next few decades would see a constant flow of change, not just in companies but also in governments, families and our personal lives. We all need to adapt constantly and rapidly. However, change is painful, and most of us aren’t ready for it.


Attributes Of Transition Architects


Transition Architects are people with an immense level of flexibility and speed that will twist and bend under any circumstances. These are people who get back up before they fall, don’t get discouraged by failure, accept the reality as it is, and pivot where needed. Transition Architects are tech-savvy and yet emotionally intelligent. They are present, they don’t complain and have a solution-focused attitude.


How I Learnt To Be The Architect of My Own Transition


I learnt the attributes of a Transition Architect the hard way, growing up in Tehran during the Iran/Iraq war. I come from one of the most impoverished areas of the South of Tehran; if you saw the environment I grew up in, you would never believe where I’ve gotten to, now. Here is a picture to give you an idea of the level of poverty I grew up in. For me growing up in the middle of war and deprivation, change came fast all the time. From one day to another, we didn’t know whether we would be alive, let alone have our next meal.


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I learnt about living in a constant state of transition when I was six years old, and my parents sent me to live with some distant relatives in the North of Iran because the capital was under fire. I remember it as being the most traumatising experience as I felt my parents had abandoned me. After the war, the country’s instability continued and worsened. I taught myself English and started working as a tour guide, by the time I was 17. Mind you, by this time, I was also forced to marry my cousin, and I was fighting my family to let me get divorced. Just as I got divorced and started to enjoy a flow of decent income from working with European tourists, 9-11 happened, and tourists stopped visiting Iran. I was anxious not knowing how to pay for my university or my life for that matter. But I got through it, and a year later I got a job in the Netherlands’ Embassy in Tehran, thanks to the Dutch Ambassador at the time who believed in me, and that changed my life. I then went on to work for the United Nations and eventually came to the UK in 2005 to study. I arrived in the UK with one suitcase and with absolutely no family, friends, or connections. I cried many nights, not knowing how to pay for my education and life. My biggest disappointment came when I was doing a PhD at St Andrew’s University but could no longer afford to pay my tuition fees. So, I had to hand in my thesis and graduate with an MPhil instead. I really struggled with accepting this reality and felt my whole world had come down crashing.


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I moved to London in 2010, once again with nothing but a suitcase and two masters degrees in Political Theory and Philosophy of Science which at the time felt useless. I worked in a restaurant until I got a job in TV and ended up becoming a filmmaker, which has nothing to do with my education. I had to learn an entirely new skill in a short period and went on to become a multi-award winning senior producer/director, launched a successful business, got invited to give talks around the world, got offered a book deal. It felt like I had it all figured until recently when I returned from a successful trip to Japan where I gave a talk to an audience of 1000 senior industry leaders in the travel industry.


A Woman with Many Faces


I feel like my personal life and career has been one giant transition after another, and so I’ve become immune to it. Even if life wanted to give me a break at times, I brought new challenges upon myself.


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For example, in the midst of struggling to pay for my education when I was a student, I even formed a Death Metal band and took it so seriously we went on to play in front of thousands of people and were featured in all the major hard rock and metal publications. The band itself created so many challenges to my life and caused me a delay in becoming a British citizen by one year. But I loved the contrasts of educating at the highest levels of political theory and philosophy of science and then getting up on stage screaming because it was unexpected and challenged people to view of what an educated woman should be like. Even today I give talks about the future of work, and the impact of technology on the business landscape, sometimes in a leather outfit and sometimes in girlie pink shoes, and if I feel like it, I’ll turn up in a suit. This level of flexibility and being comfortable in my skin, regardless of what the world’s expectation of me, might be, keeps me sharp in responding to whatever challenges life might throw at me because I’ve done it all and I’ve seen it all.


Where Am I Now?


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If you think I’m speaking from a warm place today with no problems let me tell you that this is not the case. Just in the space of the last six months, I went through a painful break up of a five-year relationship, I currently live in an Airbnb – I’ve been trying to purchase a flat for the past months, and it’s been one problem after another trying to make that happen. And now thanks to Covid-19 I’ve just lost tens of thousands of pounds on contracted work.


I’ve had to learn to become a Transition Architect. As I’ve been helping our clients with their digital transformation and thought leadership building, I’ve always attempted to provide them with a huge amount of emotional support. I play the role of a mentor, a psychologist, and a business coach in addition to helping people and companies with their content, digital transformation in their marketing and HR, or building their thought leadership. I’ve also communicated this attitude with my team, and we’ve made it our company’s value. That’s what it means to be a transition architect. Now, let me tell you how I came up with the inspiration to use that term.


Tents, Houses, and Non-Attachment


Historian Yuval Noah Harari gave an analogy in an interview, saying, ‘If traditionally people built identities like stone houses with very deep foundations, now it makes more sense to build identities like tents that you can fold and move elsewhere. Because we don’t know where you will have to move, but you will have to move.’

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Harari’s analogy truly spoke to me – as an immigrant who’s lived through war and hardship, it inspired me to develop my concept of transition architecture. For most of my life, I felt rootless with no sense of belonging, and this made me sad – until I learnt that being rootless didn’t have to be a negative thing. Instead of feeling sad, I decided to embrace it and give it a positive outlook, I saw myself as a master of transition, and I could see that a world of fast-paced technological transformation needed people like me.


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If we think about our identities in terms of building tents, rather than houses, that same analogy applies to individuals and companies in their Digital and AI transformation. It’s another way of saying that we all need to be much more agile and flexible. Covid-19 has now brought this to force faster than many of us expected.



Speed and Flexibility 


A house and a tent have a few essential things in common. They both have a base, columns, a living space and a roof, but they differ immense

[ March 25, 2020 by Somi Arian 0 Comments ]

Mindfulness In The Age of Artificial Intelligence

Let me start this article by sharing a shocking revelation that I recently discovered about Larry Page, the co-founder of Google. I was researching for my upcoming book on the future of work, when I came across a passage in, “Life 3.0”, by professor Max Tegmark of MIT. He describes a heated after-dinner debate that he witnessed between Elon Musk and Larry Page where, in defence of his “digital utopian” views, Page accused Musk of being “specieist”, since he was “treating certain lifeforms as inferior just because they were silicone-based, rather than carbon-based.” (Tegmark, 2018)


On the surface this may sound like a science fiction debate that has no bearing on our “real lives”, but it’s far from it. These sentiments were expressed by one of the most influential people in technology, if not the most influential person, on our planet. The truth is that within a few short decades the digital revolution has grown into an incredibly powerful force with a life of its own.   This means that our knowledge is growing at an unprecedented speed and information is more accessible to us than ever before. 


Now, we’ve all heard that “knowledge is power”. We also know that “with great power comes great responsibility”. But what if you weren’t fully aware of the amount of knowledge (and power) that you had? If you think you don’t have a huge amount of knowledge and power to impact the world around you, think again. What kind of device are you reading this article on, right now? Your phone, tablet, or personal computer? In 2020, you can access more knowledge at the touch of a screen on your smartphone than what was accessible to the president of the United State in the 1990. 


Technology is giving us access to knowledge and power, but it can’t give us the wisdom to use this power sensibly. That part requires conscious choice and awareness, you can also call it mindfulness. Most of us go through the motions in our day to day lives. We work to pay the bills, go on holidays, post Instagram pictures, and raise kids – a future generation that has to live with the consequences of our unconscious decisions, today. We are often oblivious to how technology is changing our lives, living mindlessly and not fully engaging with what’s unfolding around us. The business landscape is just one example of how technology is changing the very DNA of the society, not always for the better. 


Artificial Intelligence, and in particular, Machine Learning, which is one of its sub-fields, is here to turn our worlds upside down. According to a McKinsey report “about 60 per cent of all occupations have at least 30 per cent of activities that are technically automatable, based on currently demonstrated technologies.” (McKinsey & Company, 2016) This creates a huge challenge for companies and individuals, as it means that we all have to redefine the way we think about work. But the change is happening quicker than we have the ability to manage it well.


Company leaders may be rubbing their palms in excitement, at first. More automation means less human workers, less sick pay, less maternity and paternity leave, less need for emotional engagement, and higher productivity. However, growth is not always for the better. When growth is not managed and paced well it can lead to catastrophic consequences. The environmental crisis of our time, and the increasing gap between the rich and the poor, is a testament to this. The digital revolution has created a winner-take-all economy, giving a disproportionate advantage to a small number of tech giants around the globe who sadly display little wisdom, despite their great knowledge and power. Is this the world that we all want for ourselves and our future generations? 


So, what’s the solution? In my upcoming book on the future of work, I describe four human skills that can help us survive and thrive in the age of artificial intelligence. These four skills are Emotional Intelligence, Critical Thinking, Contextual Creativity, and Mindfulness. Now, mindfulness is the bedrock of the other three skills. All of these skills require the ability to understand our own subjective experiences, and that of others, and a sense of togetherness, empathy, and compassion. These all are concepts that would have made no sense in the business landscape as we knew, since the first industrial revolution. Ironically, today’s digital revolution has the potential to force us to change our way of life to live more mindfully, be more engaged and ultimately more fulfilled. Alternatively, we can choose to let go and allow technology to grow on autopilot, losing control of what our society, and our species, will turn into. The choice is ours.