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Five Questions For … Surgeon, Inventor, Musician William Cohn

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be creative. When you do a trick stylistically, you have to make it seem right for you. You have to invent how you’re going to go about doing that. There’s a lot of creativity in the mechanics of trick designing that’s similar to heart surgery. You have to learn a set of very focused moves, and move strictly with precision.

It takes discipline to get it perfectly done. People are standing all around and you still have to get away with it. Of course, there’s no sleight of hand in the operating room.

X: Who is the best musician you’ve played with?

WC: I played some gigs with Mick Fleetwood; he’s really good. Locally, I’ve played with Ezra Charles in his band for a number of years; Dr. Rockit; Herschel Berry. All the great Houston blues musicians.

I’m very fortunate I can leverage my physician status to get me into playing with bands that otherwise wouldn’t have anything to do with me. Being a heart surgeon has gotten me musical opportunities.

X: You’ve had many entrepreneurial successes. What has been your greatest failure?

WC: That’d be hard to say since I’ve had a lot of failures. I’m proud of every one of them. We learn from failure more than we do from our successes. Some of the things you could count as failures aren’t yet complete—I’m not counting them down and out. They failed and stay failed for several years. But then you revisit them and create value from them.

I would say my greatest failure is probably not knowing about opportunities I missed, people I should have worked with. Those are the biggest tragedies. The companies that I’ve done that haven’t succeeded consumed a lot of time and other people’s money, but I wouldn’t count them as failures.

Failure is part of the journey. You want to do it frequently and rapidly. Ideally, you fail cheaply as well. If you fail and consume a lot of time and resources, that’s not ideal. It’s only a permanent failure once you give up. If you still think there’s something that’s doable, roll your sleeves up, surround yourself with smarter people, and do it.

X: What are you going to be when you grow up?

WC: I dread the day; I don’t know. I just want to keep doing what I’m doing now. I’m having so much fun, surrounded by really cool people. We have meetings—I’m the dumbest guy there. I just think, God, I hope they don’t call on me. That should be everyone’s highest goal: surround yourself with brilliant people.

 

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