The resilient case of the Fray Bentos Pie


It was a normal Saturday night when I was an undergraduate student at Warwick University. My girlfriend and I were settling in for an evening of trashy TV, wine and a Fray Bentos pie was on the menu. Things couldn’t have been much better.


Now before we go on, I’m not sure everyone has heard of the Fray Bentos pie, I’m not even sure if they’re only sold in the UK? These are pies that come in a tin, you open the top and put it in the oven, the puff pastry rises to leave a delicious and nutritious pie to eat. Not everyone finds these overly pleasant, I’m not sure if it is the filling or just the concept of a pie in a tin that puts people off, but they also have a loyal cult following.

Getting back to the story: My girlfriend was doing the cooking. On this occasion she had followed the normal procedures of opening the top of the tin ready to place the pie in the oven but had forgotten to check the cooking instructions, which were on the underside of the tin. Realising this error she went to check the instructions… she went to raise our dinner above her head and tip the tin to see the instructions! I had to act fast as the threat of tipping the contents of the tin over her head and losing my dinner was all too apparent.

5 Fray Bentos

Stop! Stop! Stop! I thought there must be a better way of doing this. Then innovation struck me out of the blue, in the face of certain disaster. I went to the cupboard and retrieved another tin so we could access the cooking instructions safely. There was no risk of me losing my dinner, and no risk of an angry girlfriend with pie on her face.

A few weeks later the same thing happened… but this time there was an important difference. I saw my girlfriend realise that she had taken the lid off but hadn’t checked the instructions again, but instead of attempting to raise it above her head, without a pause or any reference to me she retrieved a spare tin from the cupboard to access the information.

With the threat of an impending disaster or human error, sometimes we find another way, or take actions to reduce the likelihood of the error. We call these changes of behavior resilience strategies. These strategies form part of our resilience repertoire that people can enact in the face of threats and opportunities. Importantly they are informal and beyond design-basis. We also distinguish between the BIG R moments where innovation happens, and the little r moments were pre-existing resilience strategies are shared and adopted. In the Fray Bentos example I had a BIG R moment where I devised the strategy to retrieve a spare tin, my girlfriend then had a little r moment as she adopted this pre-existing strategy a few weeks later.

Read more about this work:

  1. Furniss, D., Back, J. & Blandford, A. Cognitive Resilience: Can we use Twitter to make strategies more tangible? Proc. ECCE 2012.
  2. Furniss, D., Back, J. & Blandford, A. (2010). Resilience in Emergency Medical Dispatch: Big R and little rProc. Workshop on Interactive Systems in Healthcare (with CHI 2010)


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