Dr Lincoln Wallen enjoys working across the boundary between deep theoretical investigation and solving the complex problems of the real world. Now Chief Technology Officer of DreamWorks Animation and Chief Executive Officer of DWA NOVA LLC, his work benefits from lessons learned during his multi-disciplined academic career: “Looking at problems from the vantage points of different disciplines or foundational positions was essential and productive. This built up the skills I now use in industry to synthesize the varied motivations and objectives of commercial businesses based on technological, or mathematical advances in understanding.”
In his early career, Lincoln took a tenured position at the University of Oxford because it offered a broad intellectual platform, a multi-disciplinary teaching environment, and a wide range of expert colleagues. By participating in cross-sector collaborations managed by The Smith Institute for Industrial Mathematics and Systems Engineering, a technology transfer organisation, he learnt to improve commercial impact by communicating mathematical research to industry. In 1999, Lincoln sought to immerse himself more directly in the broad problems faced by industry, opting to leave academia and transition into industry at senior management level.
Lincoln believes industry and academia must collaborate to succeed: “Industry operates in, and creates, complex contexts for problem solving. Many of the problems that arise cannot be addressed without profound insight and novel research at a foundational level. Industry lacks the patience, stamina and insight to conduct such research itself.” Instead, it must turn to academia to “nurture thought and analysis without the constraints of the messy details of everyday application to point the way forward.”
He also believes complementarity between the two sectors creates the advantages of collaborative working: “The focus industry has on impact on a short timescale ensures the problems addressed are real, and allows resources to be organized to accelerate that impact. If something can work, then make it work quickly. If it is going to fail, fail quickly. Academia lacks that urgency and clarity.” Lincoln also links this with the importance of graduates to the industry pipeline: “Industry will solve those problems itself using the supply of talented graduates from academia.”