David Heinemeier Hansson

September 20, 2021

Conceptual compression is lossy (and loss hurts)

To make things simpler, you have to take something away. That means giving up something of real value to get something else of greater value still. You can't counter complexity without being willing to sacrifice. That is the nature of conceptual compression.

It's why it's so hard to do. People become attached to the choices and advantages they've grown to know, and they're loathe to trade those in on future benefits. They know what they have, they don't know what they'll get. This is the prudence of conservatism.

So it's appealing to think we can simply have it all. Everything that already is plus everything that could be. But that merely delays the disappointment when we inevitably end up worse off than if we hadn't reached at all.

The clarity to make something fundamentally better comes from the bright sheen of a blank page. The inertia of the old requires effort to bring over, so only the best of it will make the jump. What's retained is the big picture, not every footnote.

You know you're onto something if the sting of what's lost actually hurts at first. From that comes the demand that the salve of what's new truly soothes.