In December, Johnny Chung Lee, then a Ph.D. candidate, posted a five-minute video on YouTube that became an Internet sensation.
The video showed how, in a few easy steps, the Nintendo Wii remote controller – or “Wiimote” – could transform a normal video screen into a virtual reality display, with graphics that seemed to pop through the screen and into the living room. So far, the video has been seen more than six million times.
That video, together with others that Lee posted on YouTube, have drawn people to the innovator as well as his innovations. Video game companies have contacted him and, in September, M.I.T.’s Technology Review named him as one of its top innovators under 35.
When he completed his degree this year at the Human-Computer Interaction Institute of Carnegie Mellon, he received “lots of offers from all the big places,” according to Paul Dietz, who convinced Lee to join him in the applied sciences group of Microsoft’s entertainment and devices division. “When we told Bill Gates we were trying to recruit Johnny, he already knew about his work and was anxious to bring him to Microsoft,” adds Dietz, a research and development program manager.
Contrast this with what might have followed from other options Lee considered for communicating his ideas. He might have published a paper that only a few dozen specialists would have read. A talk at a conference would have brought a slightly larger audience. In either case, it would have taken months for his ideas to reach others.
Small wonder, then, that he maintains that posting to YouTube has been an essential part of his success as an inventor. “Sharing an idea the right way is just as important as doing the work itself,” he says. “If you create something but nobody knows, it’s as if it never happened.”
Photo by Johnny Lee.
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