top of page

Want these blog posts delivered right to your inbox?

Bob Dylan, Gestalt, and the Difficulty of Change

At some point, you’ve probably lamented the constant nature of change: volatile markets, evolving global conflicts, the aging process, new roads or buildings in your neighborhood.

You’re not alone…

Bob Dylan famously used his gravelly voice to remind his contemporaries: "For the times they are a-changin'." 

Heraclitus had a similar message way back in c.500 BCE: “Change is the only constant in life.”

Just when you get used to something, life seems to change… again. And change is hard.

Nonprofits and change

Nonprofits are not immune to change. As a nonprofit leader, you may have dabbled in change management theories and explored various models. You may have read books or attended sessions on the topic. But, like me, you’ve probably realized there’s no magic formula to navigate the complexities of change.

One day, my understanding of change shifted. On a call with the brilliant Andrea Kihlstedt and my fellow Capital Campaign Pro Advisors, our conversation took an unexpected turn. Suddenly we were talking about Gestalt and the Paradoxical Theory of Change. 

Ges... what? 

Even though I tell my kids that Wikipedia isn't always the best resource, I found myself starting there to unpack this concept:

 “… Arnold R. Beisser described Gestalt's paradoxical theory of change. The

     paradox is that the more one attempts to be who one is not, the more one

     remains the same. Conversely, when people identify with their current experience,

     the conditions of wholeness and growth support change. Put another way, change

     comes about as a result of "full acceptance of what is, rather than a striving to be

     different." (; emphasis mine)

In essence, the more you resist change, the harder it is. Ironically, when you accept the current realities, change becomes easier. 

How have you seen this play out at your nonprofit? Maybe your colleagues pushed back against a reorganization process and the team is still disjointed and bitter a year later. Conversely, maybe the board and staff acknowledged the current state—e.g. that the gala was losing money each year—which made it easier to let go of a fundraising tactic that no longer worked well. As a result, everyone was more creative and invested in trying something new. 

When you acknowledge the inherently dynamic nature of organizations and the environmental changes outside of your control, you begin to work with change instead of against it. Gestalt reminds us that the more organizational leadership pushes change, the more resistance crops up to slow down the process. If nonprofit leaders set the example of acceptance, the team becomes more open, and change will come from the inside. 

Embracing change means you're not just keeping up with the times; you're leading the charge toward innovation and growth. As Dylan reminds us, “the present now/ will later be past.”  Because times… they are definitely changing.

Work towards actively accepting your current reality, and see what transformation can take place! 

Leaf image by Chris Lawton on Unsplash


bottom of page