Aphorisms by and via Richard Riordan

Richard Riordan is a venture capitalist, a philanthropist, former Mayor of Los Angeles, and prodigious collector and coiner of aphorisms. We met in August at the Sun Valley Writer’s Conference, where Mayor Riordan regaled me with some of his favorites, which he quoted from memory. He is also a great believer in the power of aphorisms to shake and move the movers and shakers. “Aphorisms quite often influence leaders and their audience much more than long speeches,” he says. “I quite often leave a speech remembering an aphorism or a short, bright saying without remembering another word from a half-hour speech.”

Mayor Riordan recently taught a course at The Anderson School, the UCLA Graduate School of Business, on two subjects he says he knows nothing about—Ethics and Leadership. “I influenced the students’ thinking by teaching them short sayings that have influenced me most in my life,” he explains. “‘I couldn’t agree with you more!’—as a response to outrageous statements—became their favorite. Unbelievably, I was hired for next Spring trimester.”

Not so unbelievable, really, since Mayor Riordan’s aphorism collection includes some real zingers. A brief sampling:

Simple and easy are not synonymous. —attributed to Ron Leah of Enron

Only a mediocre person never makes a mistake. —Riordan, paraphrasing Oscar Wilde’s “Only a mediocre artist is always at his best.”

Beware of immediate reactions. —Riordan’s brother, Bill

It is much easier to get forgiveness than to get permission. —embellished and popularized by Riordan

There are three stages of life: infancy, middle age, and ‘Gee, you look good.’ —Unknown

He who controls the master controls the negotiations. —?