Facilitation Antipattern: Chicken Little

Posted by Doc
Aug 12 2009

Motto: Duck! The sky is falling!
Belief: Everything is an indicator of trouble to come.
: Points out the negatives and the danger in most things. Frequently tries to prevent action out of fear.
Characteristics: Fearful, negative, reactive, active in pointing out the problems, believable, has conviction, convincing, passionate


You’re in the midst of a conversation in which you have high expectations of reaching a conclusion and moving on to action. Chicken Little says “but doesn’t that mean that someone will lose their job?” or “I’ve tried that before, and it always ends in problems.”

Chicken Little is not a bad person, by any means. Chicken Little just sees everything as a portent of bad things to come.

Just in case you’re not familiar with the tale of Chicken Little, let me refresh your memory:

The basic premise is that a chicken eats lunch one day, and believes the sky is falling down because an acorn falls on her head. She decides to tell the King, and on her journey meets other animals who join her in the quest. In most retellings, the animals all have rhyming names such as Henny Penny, Cocky Lockey and Goosey Loosey. Finally, they come across Foxy Loxy, a fox who offers the chicken and her friends his help.

Depending on the version, the moral changes. In the “happy ending” version, the moral is not to be a “Chicken”, but to have courage. In other versions the moral is usually interpreted to mean “do not believe everything you are told”. In the latter case, it could well be a cautionary political tale: The Chicken jumps to a conclusion and whips the populace into mass hysteria, which the unscrupulous fox uses to manipulate them for his own benefit, sometimes as supper.

The challenge with Chicken Little is that he/she is believable, has great conviction, is convincing, and generally brings passion to their arguments. While you might not agree or believe at the start, through these attributes, Chicken Little will often persuade others to his/her point of view, thereby stalling or derailing the team.

5 Responses

  1. Doc says:

    On my Facebook page, David Spann said:

    “Yes, and I’m very excited to know I’ve got a “Chicken Little” on my team because I want the team’s passion to be well founded and directed. Chicken Little acts like a test of their will and fortitude and generally comes along clucking once they see the possibility.”

    He’s right – it’s too easy for me to paint all of what *I* think of as Antipatterns as negative. It’s important for me to remember that all behaviors have the possibility to contribute to group process and success.

    The problem I see with Chicken Little is that – unlike David’s example – the extreme version never comes around, and has the powerful ability to convince others through passion and conviction. I think David’s example is something else. More to ponder.

  2. Are you familiar with Edward DeBono’s Six Thinking Hats? Dan North turned me on to it.

    In any case, chicken little sounds like a classic black hat thinker (coming up with logical reasons something won’t work). One pattern for dealing with a chicken little might be to introduce the thinking hats to your team. And acknowledge the value of black hat thinking, maybe even ask the rest of the team to do it for a couple minutes. Then ask the whole team (including chicken little) to do some yellow hat (logical positive) thinking, or something else to balance his influence.

    By naming chicken little – and acknowledging the value he brings to the team – I think you might take some of his undeserved power away, and allow the team to find the best decision.

    • Doc says:

      I’m happy to hear that you know Dan. Like your work, his work informs my thinking and leads me to a richer universe.

      Good thoughts about the Six Thinking Hats – I am familiar with them, but many of my readers might not be.

  3. Twitter Comment


    Are you a chicken little? [link to post]

    Posted using Chat Catcher

  4. […] Facilitation Antipattern: Chicken Little and Facilitation Antipattern: Helpless (Steven ‘Doc’ List) […]

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