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The journey on the road less traveled begins with the first step…

Back in the late ’70s when I was a young student in London, a friend loaned me “The Trial” by Kafka.  It depressed me for over a month.  My first experience with depression.  The main character was a clerk who had always followed the rules.  One day as he stepped out after work, he was arrested and faced a series of ‘trials’, going from one faceless room to another where he was grilled to confess his ‘crime’ of which he never got to find out the charge.  And to the very end, he never found out what he was being tried for.

How vividly Kafka described modern life where we go from one room, one experience, to another, lost in a seemingly meaningless maze.  Life goes on.

And so I bumbled along, finally completing my studies in Optics, and then working in London for 5 years.  Upon returning to Malaysia, I switched from Optics to the business of Construction due to a series of events.  And I attempted to climb that corporate ladder as I was wont to do until the Asian Financial crisis in 1997 when everything crashed around me.

Then another friend gifted me with a book called “The Road Less Traveled” by M Scott Peck.  It totally captivated me.  I then went out and bought every book he had written and devoured them.  One book in particular fascinated me.  It was his seminal work called “Community Building in Business”.  By this time I had developed a strong admiration for Scott’s observational and thinking skills from which I had learned a lot.  But ‘Community’ in the cutthroat world of business?  Was that even possible?  Can that be a road out of the kafkaesque world?

And so I contacted his organization and we got to talking.  But it was not to be.

Again events overtook and I found myself going into the WWW (which I then described as the Wild Wild West) in 2002.  Back then it was more of a level playing field — before the rise and dominance of big platforms like Google, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, Amazon, Alibaba, etc — and there were thousands of us independent businesses bursting with boundless energy and experimental ideas.  There were so many ideas freely shared as we tried to make sense of the seemingly endless opportunities.  It was in this rugged, optimistic frontierland that I started emasters.info with Shoi, and our first venture was providing Viral Marketing as a service.  When that didn’t work out as planned — we couldn’t get paid enough to sustain the business even though we’d reached the top 100,000 most visited sites on the WWW at the time, which put us in the top 0.25% of 38.7 million sites — we then started an e-magazine called “It’s My Life” from which we started getting design work…  and designbyshoi.com came into being.  We retreated from the first version of It’s My Life because a ‘cartel’ was slowly ‘forcing’ independent ezine owners to accept Ads, without us having any editorial oversight on risk of being ostracized from the ezine community.

From that point, we remained a web design company until a friend suggested we start an e-commerce company…  and we started nusantaracollection.com in 2016.  As this was a potential start-up with interested investors, I started running the numbers to see how this business model could work.  Please read my journey here — The Nusantara Story.

An aside:  After designbyshoi.com was established in 2005, there was a period of about 10 years where I got involved with Malaysian Chess, when my son became our State Champion in 2005.  That was an interesting journey where I got to apply the thinking skills I learned from Scott.  The skill of ‘emptying’ and ‘bracketing’ — where I practiced emptying from my past assumptions and cherished ideals, and bracketing things I didn’t yet understand, and resisting forming unfounded conclusions.  By applying the teachings of Scott, I helped my son reach number 2 in the Nationals and I was appointed the Mind Coach of the National Team that defeated Singapore for the first time in over a decade on 1st January 2011.  In that journey, I derived deep insights into how stress and intense pressure can distort the thinking of even the brightest minds.

After setting up Nusantara, I set about relooking at how to promote it in the now very-changed environment of the WWW.  What I saw were constantly shifting rules and dysfunctional promotional & advertising models.  Gone were the organically-grown independents.  Have they been absorbed by rent-seeking platforms selling illusory solutions?  It feels like trying to build on shifting sand.  It’s an ongoing investigation.  And so much noise set upon bought hits, click-throughs, followers and subscribers.  So how would genuine small businesses get seen and get a foothold up the ladder?  It appears that while we are moving from meaningless room to meaningless room we are in fact feeding the then emerging “Matrix”.

From Nusantara, I got reconnected with our region’s culture of ‘civility’.  It felt very similar to what Scott set out to do.  Do the dots join?  Would his seminal work of ‘community building in business’ work in the now rapidly changing world of the WWW today?  Can building a community in business walk us out of the kafkaesque world back into a world where hopes and dreams were nourished, as they were in the WWW of the early 2000s, before we became batteries in the “Matrix”?

So in 2021, we revived It’s My Life e-magazine (version 2) to get independently verifiable data, while I continue to explore other promotional tools.  In our seemingly serendipitous journeys from 2002, would we now be able to see the elephant in the room and perhaps begin to understand the WWW for the first time?

With that in mind, I started this blog to document the lessons learnt over 2 decades on the WWW as well as a Facebook group called The Spiritual Realist in Business where I hope like minds can continue to explore the idea of a business community as envisioned by M Scott Peck, but which never quite took off in his lifetime.  With the emergence of business models around the world that serve to entrap rather than build…  I think Community Building in Business is more important now than ever before.