In healthcare, thinking critically is central to successful outcomes. In research, education, and other avenues of inquiry, it is the ability to examine a situation from as many angles as possible that drives innovation forward.

Simultaneously, curiosity is a key factor in the unlocking of potential solutions. Curiosity is one driver of critical thinking, and the aptitude for thinking critically can lead to a never-ending positive feedback loop of discovery.

Critical Thinking and Curiosity: Essential Skills

A 2014 article published on the website of the National Library of Medicine states that for nursing students to think critically, they must “develop independence of thought, fairness, perspicacity [at the] personal and social level, humility, spiritual courage, integrity, perseverance, self-confidence, interest in research, and curiosity.”

The article continues:

The Socratic Method, where the question and the answer are sought, is a technique in which one can investigate below the surface, recognize and examine the condition, look for the consequences, investigate the multiple data views and distinguish between what one knows and what he simply believes.”

We note that curiosity is mentioned as a key characteristic in the development of critical thinking, and that looking “below the surface” can lead to novel insights.

In a Harvard Business Review article entitled “Why Curiosity Matters,” author Francesca Gino writes, “The impulse to seek new information and experiences and explore novel possibilities is a basic human attribute.” She adds, “When our curiosity is triggered, we think more deeply and rationally about decisions and come up with more-creative solutions.”

No salient argument can be made against critical thinking and curiosity being essential in the minds of those pursuing the advancement of knowledge. What impact do the above-named characteristics have in breeding such abilities?

The Critical Thinking Muscle

Circling back to the 2014 article referenced above, we recognize that independence of thought is central to the development of critical thinking, as are other attributes. Let’s examine each in turn.

Independence of thought: When a clinician has independence of thought, they are not easily swayed by the herd mentality. An independent thinker might notice colleagues saying, “That’s the way we’ve always done it,” but will be curious why no one else has asked, “But why?” Going against groupthink, the independent thinker pursues creative solutions.

Fairness: Using fairness as a barometer, the independent critical thinker gives each possibility equal attention, withholding judgment and seeing possibilities without bias.

Perspicacity at the personal and social level: Perspicacity manifests as discernment and clear-sightedness. The perspicacious critical thinker sees his or her work in the context of their own lives and the greater society. This portends pulling the metaphorical camera back and seeing the bigger picture.

Humility: Hubris can be the death of good clinical practice. Feeling that one cannot possibly be wrong can be the utter downfall of a clinician’s ability to make prudent decisions. Humility is the ability to say, “I don’t know” or “I was mistaken.” Without humility, critical thinking withers on the vine.

Spiritual courage: Spirituality doesn’t necessarily reflect religious belief. Rather, spiritual courage means seeing deeply into the human condition, the larger forces at play, and the aspects of human frailty that make life simultaneously so precious and so tenuous.

Integrity: With integrity, a sense of honor pervades the individual’s practice. Having integrity points to honesty, truthfulness, and decency.

Perseverance: Without perseverance, healthcare providers and patients alike cannot achieve optimal outcomes. A critical thinker perseveres and moves through perceived roadblocks to new realizations.

Self-confidence: Self-confidence is essential for the critical thinker to move into the unknown. Without self-confidence, we lean on what we already know and miss out on manifesting a new vision.

Interest in research: Research is critical thinking in action. Hypotheses are tested, rejected, retooled, and tested again. We must embrace this process in order to curiously explore.

The Winds of Innovation

These essential characteristics make critical thinkers who they are; thus, we must teach them, instill them in others, and nurture their development.

In an uncertain world, those who think critically with the power of the above-named characteristics as their engines can bring about great evolution of thought, and increased hope in a world so desperately in need.

We have the power to stretch, explore, and innovate. When we empower critical thinkers in curiously and fearlessly applying their minds and hearts to the task at hand, the door to potentially life-changing innovation is blown wide open. And when that door is open, the winds of innovation are welcomed into a world ready for novel insights that can improve health, save lives, and encourage even more innovation to take place in the interest of the greater good.