Zoom, Vivace, Jazz: The Power of Words

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Can three words inspire, motivate — even define you for an entire year? A lifetime? If words shape our thoughts, our emotions, our actions, it would seem so.

“Our life is shaped by the mind, we become what we think.”


I know the power of words. I value words. The Book of John in the New Testament says Jesus is The Word: “In the beginning was the Word…”

So it’s hard to believe I’d never really considered selecting three simple words to inspire me for the year until late 2010 when I read a blog post by Chris Brogan about doing just that.

When I did the “3 words” exercise at the beginning of 2011,  I chose business words. And I’ve typically described myself in business words—actionable but boring, really. I’m trying to move away from clinically-correct factual information and use metaphor and story more effectively to inspire and teach myself and others.

I really want to tell and use the bigger story of me, in a way that helps others but also motivates me to keep making forward progress. That’s what great leaders, great speakers, great writers do. Benjamin Franklin was a master at this.

Your mind will be like its habitual thoughts; for the soul becomes dyed with the color of its thoughts. Soak it then in such trains of thoughts as, for example: Where life is possible at all, a right life is possible.

Marcus Aurelius

So as I spent some time reflecting this week on my life and where I want to go from here, I returned to the three words concept and came up with these:

Zoom, Vivace & Jazz

Updated post January 3, 2013 to include this video version of my 3 words:


This one came to me instantly and out-of-the-blue. I was driving home from work Tuesday evening and thinking about the word ‘focus.’  Focus is clinical and, in some ways, limiting. Too much focus and you become myopic. Anyway, lack of focus isn’t really a problem for me. I can totally focus when I’m committed to a project (and, when necessary, even if I’m not).

So as I pulled into the drive and parked my car, I paused to scribble the word ZOOM on a piece of paper and stuck it in my pocket. I didn’t want to lose the spark that I felt when the word popped into my head.

What I love about the word Zoom is that it has a multiplicity of meanings AND it covers a lot of territory for me personally.

Zoom can refer to:

  • Sudden swift movement.
  • A camera shot that changes smoothly from a long shot to a close-up or vice-versa.
  • Changing the focal length of a camera lens.
  • The ability to magnify something small into something larger, as in zooming in on type on a computer display or zooming in to take a close-up photograph of a small object.
  • A television show that first aired on PBS in 1972.

Let’s start with the latter.

Publicity photo of second season cast of ZOOM PBS educational series

ZOOM appeared on my local PBS station when I was 9 years old. It was the perfect show for me.

I loved ZOOM so much, I wrote WGBH and asked how I could get on the show. In reply, I received a nice letter and a package of publicity photos. Needless to say, I lived in Alabama, the show was produced in Boston (MASS 02134) and my parents were not stage parents. (No chance of having any Honey Boo Boos in my family).

I was already an aspiring media mogul and show producer in those early 1970s days, although the audience for my production was limited to those in listening distance of my cassette tape recorder or a guest in the living room. I worked with the media available to me: Cassette recorders, paper, typewriters and Kodak 110 Instamatic cameras.

So the word ZOOM reminds me of an dream I had as a kid. I never forgot the dream, but it hasn’t always been at the forefront of my daily actions. I got sidetracked, chasing after  other things and goals that I often “fell into” rather than intentionally pursued. In some instances, it was a matter of doing what seemed opportune at the time. That said, most of the steps in my career have taken me generally in the right direction, albeit at what has seemed like a turtle’s pace, most of the time, but that’s OK. Remember–the tortoise wins the race.

Which leads me to this point: ZOOM also refers to sudden swift movement.

2013 is the time for swift forward movement.

And ZOOM inspires me to look at things close-up, dig deep and then zoom out to revisit the landscape. To shift the focal point of my mental lens, to change perspectives as necessary for the situation.

Zoom lets me look at a scene from many angles and figure out the best way to compose a shot to tell the story in a way the audience wants to experience it.

ZOOM = Potential + Perspective + Power + Progress

Sing it with me:

Come on and ZOOM.


This one took a bit longer. I started with verve and slept on it.

Verve has an archaic meaning of “special ability or talent.” Nice.

In more modern usage, verve can mean energy and vitality, or the “energy and enthusiasm animating artistic composition or performance. Miriam-Webster.

Verve is also a record label.

While the meaning of verve is just what I want to capture, the word “verve” itself doesn’t excite me so much. When I see verve in writing, I think of nerve. That said, in some situations I could use more nerve. I’m not usually fearful, although I can be reluctant more out of desire to be polite or simply defer to the situation, especially when I think it’s an exercise in futility to do something.

Anyway, after sleeping on verve, I moved on to vivacity and vitality.

Vitality is important but the word just doesn’t excite and inspire change. I think I already have vitality, because I’m energetic and in great physical health. Vitality makes me think of hair tonics and Vitameatavegamin. Not where I’m trying to go with this.

Vivacity. Hmm. Maybe. Kept exploring.

With vivacity comes vivacious.

But, for me at least, the word vivacious connotes beautiful Hollywood starlets, not just attitude and spirit. Even though vivacious isn’t limited to physical appearance, I can’t help but think of blonde bombshells and flirting when when I think of vivacious. Nothing wrong with flirting, and I’m comfortable with my looks, but I perceive that I’m past the age when I qualify as vivacious. Is that just me? Am I being ageist? Is Sandra Bullock vivacious? Emma Peel is a huge role-model for me, and she is certainly vivacious, but Emma Peel is admired as much for her intelligence, wit and cool-under-pressure fortitude as her beauty.

I’ll certainly not complain if my epitaph includes the word vivacious.  But it seems unseemly (to me) to describe myself as vivacious and I’m not sure the word vivacious inspires me to take action in some way. Vivacious is what someone else says about me, not what I say about myself.

Moving on, then. Something prompted me to think of allegro, which then sparked vivace.

Vivace is Italian for lively and vivid.

Vivace is fun to say, it’s Italian, it’s connotes all the “life” attributes we find in the original Latin: “vīvax long-lived, vigorous, from vīvere to live.”

I am energetic and fun-loving. Sprite. Spry. I could use more Sparkle in routine interactions. (I tend to be way to serious too often in business or neutral situations. I love fun, even being silly, but because silliness out-of-place annoys me, I tend to err on the side of serious at outside of close relationships. Must work on that).

I have excellent physical health but I want to take my physical fitness to an even higher level. Vivace will help me get there.

A vigorous exercise workout (running or other aerobics) correlates to about 135-160 beats per minute. As it happens, a vivace tempo in music is something greater than 132 BPM.

So as I worked through my analysis, I instinctively reached this conclusion:

To me, vivace describes HOW you do something, like play music or live life, rather than a state or description that others ascribe to me. Vivacious is what others might say about me. Vivacity requires extra words: “I want to live with vivacity.”  I can use vivace as call to action, so to speak. Tawanda!

Vivace: Lively, vivid, long-lived, full of vivacity.

Vivace! That’s Me.


Once I settled on Zoom and Vivace, I knew I needed another word just as vivid and powerful. Short, pregnant with meaning yet open to interpretation.

As with zoom, jazz popped into my head, out of the blue. Well, maybe not OUT of the blue. Jazz is, after all, Kind of Blue. And I had been thinking of Verve records.

Did you know I play trumpet? (Full disclosure: It’s been a long time).

My Ph.D. program included numerous courses in the business school at U of Alabama. One of the assigned readings in Dr. Cashman’s course on change management and leadership was about jazz as a metaphor for organizational management. I don’t recall the name of the paper’s author, but I still have the paper in one of my boxes. The analogy and ideas in the paper stuck with me. Since then, I’ve run across the jazz as metaphor in other contexts. So I don’t claim authorship for the ideas I’m about to talk about here, but the application to my personal situation is, of course, my own.

Jazz is all about improvisation. But there’s also a structure, a framework, a musical chart that musicians operate within, even while they imprint the music with their own voice, intonation, melody and rhythm.

As a result, it can be difficult to categorize jazz music.

One of my greatest assets is that I’m not easily categorized. To me—that’s an asset. I don’t fit into pigeonholes. I don’t like boxes and don’t want to be forced to exist inside them.

That’s also one of my biggest liabilities, at least by conventional wisdom. It’s why I have trouble fitting into academic disciplinary silos and why I feel stifled in big organizations and narrow job descriptions.

I’m an ideas person, and big, important ideas are not easily constrained by arbitrary boxes created for bureaucratic convenience. But jazz music does, at some point, begin with a chart, which provide an overall framework for interpretation. Jazz is perfect for me in this regard.

Jazz is collective. Jazz musicians perform in combos: Duos, trios, quartets, quintets, sextets … orchestras.

This is one of the areas I want to work on in 2013: Building community, interacting, sharing. I want to create a jazz combo.

I have a tendency to work alone, in part because I can be impatient and others don’t move at my pace. I need to work on this, like a jazz soloist who needs to perform within a defined time signature and key.

Jazz is progressive, it’s not static, jazz is about change.

One of my mantras for the past few years has been “Embrace Change.”  I’ve used this phrase more to inspire others, rather than for myself. I’m very comfortable with change. In fact, I need change. I need new experiences and new opportunities, otherwise I feel stifled. I’ve never been the type of person to stay in known situation simply for security.

I am jazz.


Words inspire. Words matter. 

Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about those things.


As the physically weak man can make himself strong by careful and patient training, so the man of weak thoughts can make them strong by exercising himself in right thinking.

Joseph Allen, As a Man Thinketh

What are you thinking about? Your words compose your thoughts and your thoughts define who you are.
What words will you chose for 2013? Leave me a comment and share your words below.

About Sheree

Change Catalyst, Idea Explorer, Dot-Connector, Square Peg