Some really nice thoughts above, thanks for sharing!
Working backwards, in two ways, helped me appreciate IQ produced by compacts:
1. Learning processing and printing techniques gave me confidence of printing and even displaying in art galleries (and selling limited edition prints if I may be allowed to boast) images shot with compact cameras. 12x16" enlargements are a breeze and even 15x20" not at all difficult with 6 megapixel plus compacts. All images I'm referring to were printed on Epson 8800/9800 professional printers.
2. Working backwards from the aesthetic qualities of the image (subject, composition, lighting, etc.), shortlisting the best image/s and then figuring out how best they could be processed and in what size they could be printed. I've hung a lot of framed A4 size prints on walls taken by 5 megapixel compacts and they look stunning! I do a lot of pixel peeping on my images but thankfully no one who has seen framed prints ever peeped close into an image, always saving my day
The above is just an insight, I am not sure if it is a to-the-point answer to your query.