I'd like to give a little space for an activity that I've grown more appreciative of recently: stating the obvious. "Of course stating the obvious can be useful," I hear you say. Well, let me try to state why, from my experience, I think so too.
Firstly, suppose I think I understand something, or have a new idea clear in my head. At this stage I've often found myself feeling satisfied and moving on to something else, perhaps building on this to develop resulting ideas or trying to implement something based on it. But, if instead I try to write down the original idea, it very often turns out to be a little more difficult to express than I'd imagined. Spending a few minutes to clear that up in writing or mathematics can unearth subtleties or lead to a review of the idea that I hadn't previously thought of. Without doing this, building upon ideas can end up feeling like I've built my house on the sand, so to speak.
Mathematicians have been doing this for ages. I read a paper today which proposed a formal model for describing self-organising systems, which it seems to me is all about stating the obvious with respect to this field. But to me, theorists really add value to a field when they can clearly express ideas in this kind of way and ensure any subsequent reasoning is properly grounded (and previous flawed reasoning can be exposed).
My second point is that just because an idea is obvious to me, I shouldn't presume that it's obvious to anyone else. This is something that I think most people who've done a Ph.D. (and many who haven't) encounter. Once you've spent literally years thinking in detail about one specific idea, that idea can seem very obvious indeed. It seems to me that the more you think about an idea, the more the world starts to look like it would from that perspective. But this certainly doesn't change the way the world looks to anyone else! Matt Might's "Illustrated Guide to a Ph.D." is a great example of this.
This point is related to the oft quoted idea that there really aren't stupid questions, just stupid answers. Feeling like something you say is stupid and will expose you as being ignorant leads to the same result as assuming that that same something is too obvious to mention. From either perspective, we can say that perhaps the idea is obvious to everyone else, and perhaps it isn't - and you'll never know unless it's brought up. In a group discussion, a good chair will know when to take a discussion offline, so stating the obvious - or asking about it - can really be helpful.
This brings me to my third point: stating the obvious establishes shared assumptions. Imagine a rather contrived example, when two strangers meet and discover that they are both experts in the big bang theory. It may take only one sentence for the strangers to realise that one is a Physics Professor and the other likes American sitcoms, but more subtle unspoken assumptions can be quite counter productive. And this occurs simply because certain things are deemed too obvious to mention.
And this brings us back to my first point about building on ill-thought-out ideas. If one such idea can be disruputive in one person's mind, then what happens when two or more minds have different ill-thought-out perspectives on the same nebulous concept? In my experience work will either stagnate, one person will dominate and the other lose interest, or else the result will be an even more confusing and almost certainly wrong composite idea.
So, I'm learning to do myself a favour and state the obvious more often. Even if it's just to myself.