Optimize for the common case

One of my best lessons from my computer science education was the phrase “optimize for the common case.” This was originally in the context of developers wasting time optimizing code – but with little net effect either because the occurrence didn’t happen nearly as as expected often or when it did happen the impact was far smaller than expected.

This adage works however for a lot in life. Take the concept of the guest room, I used to have one and it got used less than once a year. But I still paid mortgage, taxes, heat, etc for this space. Not a good optimization for the common case of being empty – especially when a hotel is close and an air mattress can go in the living room.

Similarly with cars people tend to optimize for odd cases like road trips or the occasional hauling of something large. But no vehicle does everything well. Trucks are great at hauling but expensive to lease/buy, expensive to fuel, and difficult to park in urban environments. Fuel efficient vehicles are often cheaper to lease/buy, cheap to fuel, and easy to park but lack the ability to larger move stuff. EVs are sometimes cheaper to lease/buy, incredibly cheap to run, but limited in range. But for most of us the real common case is commuting five days a week and 68% of Americans commute less than 30 miles daily round trip. The smart money is to get the car you need for the common case and borrow/rent when you need something different.

The point is people tend to make buying decisions more on the uncommon case than the common case, but this behavior often bears significant cost, and the problem could be solved easily though other means.

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