What’s the best way to validate a product or service idea? According to author Rob Fitzpatrick it’s the exact opposite of what most of us do. Here’s a quick summary of his book The Mom Test (including a sketchnote) to show you what we do wrong and the right way to act instead.
Table of Contents
The Mom Test Sketchnote summary
What is the mom test?
The mom test is the worst thing you can do to validate an idea, and yet it is what most of us do.
It’s when you ask someone you know if they like our idea. It’s called the mom test because it’s like when a mom evaluates their kid’s drawings. They like it because of their relationship with the child and so don’t give it fair evaluation or feedback.
When you rely on the mom test, you fail to properly validate your ideas but get positive feedback. This leads to bad decisions.
What to do instead of the mom test?
Instead of asking if someone like your idea, you should either
seek to understand their problems, situation and current solutions
ask them to buy your product or service.
The first helps you get evidence on what the person actually does and needs not what they think they might like. The second proves if they think the idea has value to it and that they would be willing to pay.
How to properly validate an idea
Rather than start with your idea, start by finding out what they are currently doing to solve their problems. You should ask questions to make sure this is a real problem and one that is causing them issues.
While they are answering, look for specific past occasions they have tried to solve their problem instead of generic ideas or opinions about what they’d like. If they can give an example of how they have tried to solve that problem, it proves it is a significant problem. If they haven’t tried to solve it, they don’t care enough.
An anti-marketing approach to sharing your idea
In marketing, you want to share your idea in the best possible light in an attempt to convince someone to buy. When validating an idea, you want to present it as plainly as possible.
State exactly the idea, how it is different, how it works and what it does. Don’t talk about the pain points or how it can help overcome problems with other solutions, be as to the point as possible.
If someone still has a positive reaction to your idea, then you know it’s a good idea. If they have problems or questions about it, don’t be upset.
The value of bad news
Bad news is better than good news.
If you find out there is a similar competitor or another solution which solves the problem better than you could, you have saved yourself from wasting your time.
If someone finds a fault in your product or service, you can now address it. Problems aren’t the end of the discussion.
How to respond to feature requests
Everyone and their dog knows what’s missing from your product or service.
But they’re mostly wrong. Especially when they talk about features.
Your goals is to find out the underlying problem they are trying to address and then work out the best way to address it. This is tightly connected to one of the mom test golden rules.
You cannot tell the customer what their problem is or isn’t, and in return they can’t tell you how to solve it.
If someone tells you they have an issue, accept that feedback. They do have an issue.
Other people might not have the same issue but their problem is real.
But you don’t have to accept their solution.
Get your own copy of the mom test
If this summary and review of the mom test by Rob Fitzpatrick has whet your appetite, you can get your own copy of the book to explore the ideas more.
Sketchnotes have taken off in the 10 years since Mike Rohde wrote THE book on sketchnoting — The Sketchnote Handbook. In 2011 I attempted my first one and almost never tried again. Luckily a couple of things came through and helped me unlock my sketchnoting ability.
In this ultimate guide to visual note taking, you’ll learn what helped me unlock my abilities. Plus, the other keys and tips I’ve learned from helping hundreds of other people create their first sketchnote.
What is sketchnoting?
Sketchnoting is a form of visual note taking that combines texts and graphical elements such as icons, arrows, containers, non-linear layouts and fancy typography. They are often used to record conference talks and meetings but can be used for planning and sharing discussions too.
Mike Rohde coined the term back in 2006 when he was struggling with the typical way of taking notes at conferences. He was using a pencil on a legal pad of paper and trying to get every word the speaker said.
So he set some creative limits and freedoms to change his approach.
He captured the key points not every word
He used a small A5 moleskine notebook
He add visual elements like drawings
He wrote in pen
These rules started this note taking style. Although it has evolved since then, the core ideas remain. First, don’t worry about getting everything down, just get the key points. And second, use both visuals elements and text to make your notes.
Why you should make sketchnotes
Using text and visuals to take notes help you remember more information. Plus you will be more engage in the topic and you can express your creativity too. They also leave you with a beautiful graphic you’ll want to share not a long text document.
Some people even sketchnote as their natural means of taking notes (without ever learning the name of the topic). Plus certain topics are just far better expressed and easier to diget with the aid of visuals and text. Sketchnote may even be the most natural way to take notes, if you’d never been told what you should do.
How students and educators are using sketchnotes to learn more
Many educators and schools are starting to use sketchnoting and related visual thinking practices to help their students learn more effectively. Sketchnote engage both visual and verbal processing sectors of the brain which helps aid memory.
And using visual thinking practices for planning and ideation help communication. Great to avoid confusion between students and teacher as well as preparing for 21st century skills.
Just make a note with a combination of text and visuals. The exact make up is up to you but there are few common steps you’ll probably want to take.
Add a headline with some core metadata (like the speaker and the event). You can even do this in advance of the event.
Pick a layout (the talk topic might guide you or the intro may give you some ideas).
Add your first point (this might be a headline, an image, or a description depending on what fits).
Add another element to enhance the point (maybe an icon to reinforce the text, or some subtext to a header).
Don’t try to capture everything, just the most important points.
If you don’t have time to write or draw it, leave a clue or space so you can complete it later.
Continue until you have finished your note.
If you are looking for what you can include in your visual, the next section has some ideas.
What should people include in sketchnotes
There are five common elements people include in their notes. These are
Icons (little drawings)
You can group some of these elements together. For example, a speech bubble is a form of container. But thinking of them as separate items can help you remember them when you need them.
“I’d love to sketchnote, but I can’t draw”
Good news, you can still sketchnote even if you can’t draw for two reasons.
1. A Sketchnote uses other elements too including layouts, colours, typography, arrows, containers and more. You can focus on using these elements rather than adding icons and drawings.
2. You almost certainly can draw to some degree, and the way to get better is to practice. Don’t feel any pressure to share your sketchnotes yet, but it’s really all about the ideas and the learning process not about creating art.
3. You could make visual notes using graphics and icons others have made. In this situation you might use an app like canva and import their icons to get your desgin layout.
There’s no right or wrong way to get started, with sketchnoting. In fact some just dive right and make a sketchnote at the next conference they go to. But most of us need to start with an easier challenge.
Make a sketchnote selfie
From my experience helping students learn sketchnoting, one of the best ways to start is by making a sketchnote selfie. This removes a couple of the toughest challenge like the time pressure of live sketchnoting and the less familiar topic.
It’s completely up to you. Personally, I love switching between digital and analog tools. It let’s me mess around and explore different styles and options. But you might prefer one over the other.
Digital Sketchnoting can help you correct mistakes, create higher resolution sketches and you can experiment with hybrid-sketchnotes with imported graphics and photos.
Analog sketch notes feel completely different and can open up the possibility of popup and 3D elements. Plus you don’t have to worry about keeping your note book charged!
Give both a try and see what you prefer, just don’t expect a tablet to solve your drawing challenges.
The Best Sketchnotes App
There are hundreds of apps you can use for sketchnoting, and depending on your preferences you might gravitate to a different option. There are, however, a few which users recommend more than the rest. Here they are (including my own personal recommendations).
The best IPad Sketchnoting Apps
The iPad with Apple Pencil is a common choice for sketchnoting app due to its incredible responsiveness and flexibility. The most common sketchnoting apps are.
I personally use all the first four for different needs. Paper is for simple drawings. Procreate for final products. Concepts for SVG files. And Goodnotes for marking up PDFs. I’ve also heard good things about noteshelf.
The best apps for sketchnoting on an android tablet
Although the iPad has the majority of sketchnoting fans, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t use an Android tablet. Options like the Samsung Galaxy tabs have great styli too and can produce great results. Here are a couple of the most common sketchnoting app choices.
The best sketchnoting tools for analog sketchnotes
The best sketchnoting tools are the ones that encourage you to create more. For someone people that’s really cheap tools, for others its more premium ones. Personally I like a balance. Cheap tools to test out ideas without worrying about the cost, and nice premium tools for making visual notes at events. Here are some of my favouirte premium tools.
Well know you should know everything you need to start sketchnoting.
Just get a pen and some paper together (or even an iPad), find an interesting topic and get started. If you want some more guidance, check out my free and premium courses to help you unlock your thinking with sketchnotes.
What are sketchnotes?
Sketchnotes are a form of visual noting combining element of classic notes, like text, and more visual elements like icons, connectors, arrangements and colours.
Why should I make sketchnotes?
Sketchnotes are a more creative, more engaging and more memorable way to create notes. If you want to explore your creative side or take more effective notes for a course, you should use sketchnotes. Read this article to learn more reasons to sketchnote.
Can I make sketchnotes with an iPad or other tablet?
Yes! Although sketchnotes started as an analog form of note taking digital sketchnoting is a common approach and perhaps even the most common way now. While using a digital tool has some advantages, there are advantages of analog sketchnoting too
Are mind-maps sketchnotes?
Both mind-maps and sketchnotes are forms of visual note taking and so overlap. You can have a note that is both a mind-map and a sketchnote (and call it what you like), or it can just be a sketchnote, or just a mind-map. Learn more about the differences between mind-maps and sketchnotes here.
What should I make sketchnotes of?
Anything you want! You can make sketchnotes of conference talks, podcasts, books, food experiences, plans and more. Look at this list of 30 sketchnote prompts if you need some ideas.
Yes. Firstly you can use other elements in your sketchnotes and not just drawing, and secondly, you almost certainly can draw but you can’t draw as well as you like. The way around that is to practice. If you like to learn more about how to sketchnote if you can’t draw, check out this course.
There are hundreds of competitors out there who are all after the same customers that you are. If you are lucky you’re in a big market so there’s enough customers for everyone. Or perhaps you stand out by being better or cheaper than the rest. But there is another option, that’s the Blue ocean strategy.
Avoid the red ocean, swim in the blue.
“Don’t swim in a red ocean of bloody competition.”
This is the core idea of the “blue ocean strategy”. Instead of fighting others for a limited set of resources, you move to a new market where there’s no competition at all.
Instead of being a choice of two or more, you become the only option.
Don’t look at the competition
Country to most business strategies, you shouldn’t look at what your competition is doing in this strategy. That’s because if you define yourself properly, you have no competition. Plus, by looking at the competition, you can fall into the same traps.
Instead, focus on your customers, their needs and how you can uniquely meet them.
A blue ocean strategy doesn’t just mean premium pricing.
You might think this naturally leads to premium pricing, but that’s not guaranteed.
By redefining the market, the problem and the solution, companies can provide value at lower costs. An example might be providing a SaaS solution instead of a premium service (for example Canva for making social media images), instead of a freelance designer on commission, you can design it yourself.
The Netflix example
When it started, it was a way to watch movies at home. But it didn’t really compete with rental stores or cable services by offering a lower price or more options. Instead it provided a unique service of delivering dvd with credits each month.
Since then it changed to streaming with unlimited watching.
Are you swimming in a blue ocean?
So if you’re competing in a vicious existing market, maybe you should look for the blue ocean?
Quick question: are most people like you, or different from you?
Chances are you think most people are like you, but that may not be correct.
Here’s why this happens and what can we do about it.
Introducing the false consensus effect
This bias is called the “False consensus effect”.
It occurs because we tend to spend time with people (family and friends) who are like us. The problem is, that doesn’t mean EVERYONE is like us.
This leads to us projecting our values on society and neglecting other views.
An election example
The run up to elections are a great example of this effect.
People are often shocked when their party doesn’t win because “everyone they know” supports their party. In some cases this is because their friend fail to share their real opinions. But it also happens because their sample is too limited.
If they spend more time with more diverse people, they would have a better picture.
So what causes the false consensus effect?
Theories on the cause of the false consensus effect
There are lots of theories and factors that may explain the false consensus effect including
The desire to feel we belong in society (so we imagine society is like us)
A reliance on our bias experiences (we ignore other views)
Empathy is difficult (it’s easy to assume our own thoughts)
Anchored by our thoughts (Our initial ideas sway our view of others)
And some factors seem to make the false consensus effect stronger.
When we have particularly strong beliefs which we believe to be correct, we are more likely to over estimate their support [Morrison KR, Matthes J. 2011]
This applies even when we don’t think they are the majority opinion.
So how can we minimise the effect?
How to manage the false consensus effect
The two simplest ways to reduce the false consensus effect are
Engage with other perspectives
Check that your assumptions are correct.
These help break our assumptions and introduce new viewpoints.
We can also reduce our motivations to be right which can help us accept other data.
The false consensus effect says that we tend to believe others share the same beliefs as us even when they don’t.
We can counter it by engaging with other perspectives and checking the consensus.