Meet the Podnosticators – the Oracle of Riogordo

In ancient Greece, people consulted oracles to learn about the future. The best known resided at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, where the blind priestess Pythia provided prophetic prediction for all in need of direction. Above its entrance, the temple had an inscription: Know thyself.

In fact, there appear to have been a total of 147 maxims chiselled into the marble – and they are well worth studying in detail if one wants to fine-tune one’s moral compass. The first three are the best-known: in addition to self-knowledge, they appeal to moderation, and the avoidance of overly strong beliefs or ideology (one might be tempted to call that humility).

It is no surprise that the Sam, as the classicist among the three veterans of the SmallDataForum, came up with our new name, blending the ancient Greek word describing foreknowing – prognosis (with gnosis = knowledge at its heart) with our cherished medium of podcasting. Lo and behold, in an act of neology-meets-etymology, the googlewhacking Podnosticators were born.

On the podcast, Sam muses about the popularity of the phrase prognostication and it seems it has fallen out of use of late, prediction and forecasting having taking its place. Be that as it may – the Podnosticators does have a better ring to it than the Podictors, say.

Podnosticators at work

When we first got together in 2016 to discuss the uses and abuses of big and small data in politics, business and public life, Neville was involved in IBM Watson, Sam was building his data storytelling agency and planning his first book, and I was helping the Maldives tourism board with data-led communication planning.

They were interesting times, and they remained, and continue to be, interesting times. Neville is still multi-podcasting and advising businesses on navigating the social media universe, Sam has completed a trilogy of books on using data better by asking smarter questions, and I am finally getting close to completing a PhD journey that started more than 30 years ago.

So here we are, aiming to podnosticate (rather than pontificate) about a continuously wide range of topics with self-knowledge, moderation and an awareness of the pitfalls of ideology.

So what, if anything, is going to be different?

Neville feels that we ought to make our individual voices more obvious, to bring more of ourselves. Less poring over news stories, perhaps, and more deep dive into what it all means, and where it’s all going, big/small data-wise.

As the experience of our trip to Riogordo in Andalusia and multiple podcast recording shows, we don’t really need a lot of news prompts to get our podnostications flowing. With a combined age of beyond 180, we’ve amassed quite a bit of ancient knowledge and wisdom between us. Occasionally, that even leads to Eureka! moments of insight.

Mens sana… Sam’s delicious paella and decent rioja to fuel the Podnosticators.

I’m wondering what lights us up – a phrase I’ve learned from Sam’s books – and what forms the gnosis in our podnostications. And I’m reminded of Nate Silver’s prediction bible, The Signal and the Noise, and his use of Archilochus’s fable of the single- (if not close-) minded incurious hedgehog and the open-minded curious fox (later brought to prominence by the philosopher Isaiah Berlin).

As podnosticators, our natural leaning is towards foxiness, but as Sam rightly states, there comes a time when, in order to get to outcomes, one must embrace one’s inner hedgehog. This, then, is the Podnosticator’s maxim: to try to make a bit more sense of the world of big and small data by providing sideways perspectives with self-knowledge, moderation and humility, by being foxy as well as hedgehoggy, as required.    

Follow us on Twitter: @podnosticators

Listen to Episode 70:

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