Scientists have given a new name to the deaths that occur in surgery after something goes wrong—whether it is an infection or some bizarre twist of the stomach. They call them a “failure to rescue.” More than anything, this is what distinguished the great from the mediocre. They didn’t fail less. They rescued more.
This may in fact be the real story of human and societal improvement. We talk a lot about “risk management”—a nice hygienic phrase. But in the end, risk is necessary. Things can and will go wrong. Yet some have a better capacity to prepare for the possibility, to limit the damage, and to sometimes even retrieve success from failure.
This line of thinking also works if you're not a surgeon or something and your day-to-day life is more mundane. Just swap 'recalibration' for 'rescue'. The key factor in being able to turn things around, Gawande suggests, is being open to the possibility that you may need to do so--avoiding hubris, overconfidence, and stubbornness.