Neal Ford  |
  • Author, ThoughtWorker, & Meme Wrangler

Robert Fripp's Aphorisms

If you recognize the name in the title, it is unlikely for the reasons I’m going to write about today. Robert Fripp was (and is) the guitarist and de-facto leader of the only surviving original progressive rock band, King Crimson. While the others (like Yes, for example) still tour in a Dinosaurs Roam the Earth mode (still playing their music from the 70’s), King Crimson still tours with new music, and it is very new music indeed. Robert Fripp also founded a school for guitarists called Guitar Craft. It is not a permanent school, but one that moves from place to place, holding week-long classes for all levels of guitarist. I haven’t been to one, but I’ve read about them. Really, they are as much about attitude and discipline as about playing music. There have been several graduates that have gone on to careers in music, most notably The California Guitar Trio.

However, this post isn’t about that either. One of the rituals of Guitar craft is the recognition of aphorisms, or quotes that have special meaning in a specific context. The dictionary definition of aphorism is “a concise statement of a principle”.

  The attitude that life owes us something, if not everything, encourages life to thwart our endeavors.

Taken in the context of guitar craft, these aphorisms relate to (at the macro level) life in general and (at the micro level) about the craft of playing the guitar.

  We begin where we are.

However, there is another context with which to read these aphorisms. Fripp is legendarily disciplined, and there are numerous published examples of this trait, perhaps best is his own on-line diary (established before the term “blog” was coined). Another is the (unfortunately) out of print biography by Eric Tamm. These aphorisms, being “concise statements of principle”, apply broadly to life and particularly leading a disciplined life. And that is something to which everyone should aspire. Reading and pondering these random aphorisms over the years has helped me write (or, more precisely, finish) books. And they have helped me finish arduous endeavors like the Ironman Triathlon.

  Process is Intelligence getting to know itself.

Until you understand Fripp’s context, some of the aphorisms don’t make much sense. However, over years of reading, you understand the context and draw meaning from all of them.

  Relaxation is never accidental.

If you want to see some Fripp aphorisms, go to the Discipline Global Mobile web site. At the bottom of the page is a random CGI script that randomly show aphorisms while you are on the site. One of my favorites (I have part of this engraved on the back of my iPod now) is one about the relationship between music and silence (in many ways, music frames a particular kind of silence):

 Music is the cup that holds the wine of silence. Sound is the cup, empty; noise is the cup, broken.   

In many ways, software development relates to music: a creative endeavor facilitated by dexterity, tools, and discipline. And, correspondingly, many of the aphorisms apply eerily to software development.

Address the process rather than the outcome. Then, the outcome becomes more likely.


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Neal Ford  |
  • Author, ThoughtWorker, & Meme Wrangler