Bloated? Confused? Lost? How to Avoid the Taco Time Trap

So many outrageous layers of carbs and fats in that “taco”! More guacamolito sauce, please!

But seriously, how many things in your life suffer from what I call the Taco Town Trap? Think of all the needlessly bloated and complex products and services we encounter each day. I’m talking about smartphone operating systems with more features than any of us will ever grok. Or cars with automatic fragrance dispensers. And for all you US citizens in LinkedIn land, need I mention the fried-taco-crepe-wrapped-in-a-Chicago-pizza set of income tax forms we struggle to fill out each April?

Thankfully, there’s a relatively straightforward way to bypass the Taco Town Trap: have a Point of View. It’s a concept from the literary world, and it’s also one that we use liberally at the Stanford, where we reduce it down to the shorthand of “POV”. In fact, here’s the format we use when we’re teaching students how to formulate a POV:

Point of View:

[ a human ] needs to [ the human’s need ] because of [ your insight ]

A Point of View is simply a statement about what really matters. And by omission, what does not. As you’re creating something new—or going back to update something already in play—your POV is your bedrock, a touchstone to go back to over and over to assess whether that new feature is really a good idea. Throughout the challenging process of making decisions about what to create, it makes it easy to say “yes” or “no”. As it turns out, life gets a lot simpler when you can feel good about “no” being a complete sentence. And the results are generally much, much better.

How to arrive at a strong POV? It’s not difficult or mysterious. You need to get out from behind your desk and get yourself out in the world. Experience things firsthand. Listen to real people. Feel things, deeply. Use all of that to formulate your Point of View, and then test it with people by showing them prototypes of your vision so that they can feel it, too.

At the end of the day, it’s a confidence thing. When we don’t know which way is up, our instinct is to throw everything in, including the kitchen sink, a tote bag, and a few gordita shells. That’s the safe and easy path. But having a Point of View means making trade-offs and subtracting the inessential. Listen to everything, but do only what is right. The resulting focus is incredibly attractive; if you track down the origins of all the remarkable products, services, movies, music, and books that you love, I guarantee you’ll find a crystal clear POV at their origin. My list of POV all-stars includes Duke Ellington, the Palm V, Chuck Taylor shoes, the Porsche 356, and The Big Lebowski.

When it comes to the Taco Town Trap, there’s nothing inherently wrong with pouring guacamolito sauce on your mountain of a taco. You just need to know why it’s there!