Cindy Alvarez

What Does “Wishful Thinking” Validation Look Like?

When I originally wrote this post, it was titled "What does a validated hypothesis look like?" But that's not entirely accurate. A validated hypothesis requires more than words: it requires the customer to pay money, to pre-order, to invest learning time or social capital. That's actually incredibly easy to spot. Either you've got cash in hand or you don't!

But what about the hypothesis that hasn't quite been validated? There are many times when this happens:

Some positive signals + You assuming you were right = Something that looks like a validated hypothesis -- but isn't. Let's call it a "Wishful Thinking" Validation.

A validated hypothesis has the following components:

In many cases, you may need to invest time, money, and resources before you can get to that last component. But if you're honest with yourself, you can spot an invalidated hypothesis much sooner.

So what does an invalidated, or "wishful thinking" validation actually look like?

It can be hard to tell the difference between "yes!" and "maybe..." responses. That difference can waste a ton of your money and time.

I'll list out some examples of "maybe" vs. a "yes!" responses. Let's use Freda and Jasper, both of whom have already told us that they need to lose weight.

Customer confirms that there is a problem

Freda: "I've gained 20 pounds over the last few years, and I feel awful. I have to lie down to zip up my jeans!"

Jasper: "I've gained 20 pounds over the last few years, and I feel awful. I had to move my belt out another notch this morning!"

Yep, both of them have a problem.

Customer doesn't accept it the problem as "that's life" or "it's beyond my control."

Freda: "It's so hard; I'm so busy with work and kids and volunteering. But I know it's possible to lose weight, and I just have to make the effort."

Jasper: "It's so hard; I'm so busy with work and kids and volunteering. I guess that's why everyone I know gets heavier after age 35..."

...but Jasper sees this situation as normal. If he doesn't lose weight, he'll still be the same as his peer group.

Customer is already investing resources (time, money, learning curve) into trying to solve this problem.

Freda: "I joined my neighborhood gym and signed up for a trainer. It's expensive, but if I know what I should be doing, I'll be more likely to keep it up, unlike last time."

Jasper: "Yeah, I really should lose some weight -- that's why I'm really interested to see what your product is, maybe it can help me!"

Don't confuse aspirational thinking ("I wish I was the type of person who did X") with customers ready to take action ("I wish I had tools to help me do X better/faster/more effectively").

Customer is already investing behavioral change into trying to solve this problem.

Freda: "I started taking the stairs instead of the elevator. I used to drink 3 or 4 sodas a day, now I'm down to 1 and water or tea the rest of the time. I feel like that's not enough, though."

Jasper: "When did you say your product will be ready? I can't wait -- I just need something to kickstart me into action and then boom, I'll really get serious about this."

Jasper will never be serious about this. Jasper is still riding the elevator one floor up to the vending machines. Jasper will never pay you anything.

Customer does not have any constraints that prevent them from trying this solution.

Freda: "I'm lucky my family is supportive of my goals and, even if they don't like it much, they won't revolt at me spending more time exercising and keeping less junk food in the house."

Jasper: "Well, it'll depend. My kids are such picky eaters, I don't think I can convince them to try kale or couscous. And, of course, my wife has us on a pretty tight budget with the current economy..."

Jasper has external stakeholders who will sabotage this sale.

The thing is, both of these people can sound genuinely concerned and eager and enthusiastic. Tone alone could entirely fool you. Emotion is important -- certainly, with lack of emotion you'll have a hard time selling -- but behavioral indicators are much stronger.

If you offered a pre-order option, there's a good chance Freda would give you her credit card number. Jasper would not. Are your prospective customers Fredas or Jaspers? If the latter, something -- either your product or your market -- needs to pivot.

Find this post useful? I've written much, much more in my new book, Lean Customer Development.
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