Originally published March 8, 2024

Stan Garfield


This is the 101st article in the Profiles in Knowledge series featuring thought leaders in knowledge management. V. Mary Abraham is an author, consultant, and facilitator. Active in the legal industry since 1991, she practiced corporate law at a top-tier international firm and helped lead its knowledge management efforts. Mary was a member of the faculty of Columbia University’s Master of Science in Information and Knowledge Strategy (IKNS) program and served as Academic Director of the program.

Mary co-founded a digital start-up, Broadli Inc., which created the Broadli generosity app and provides training for smarter networking. She wrote the Law Technology Today column sponsored by the American Bar Association’s Law Practice Management Section and for Thomson Reuters Practice Innovations and Legal IT Today.

I met Mary at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston in 2010, but I had been a fan of her blog well before then. We have been friends ever since. She is great at rapidly blogging detailed session summaries at conferences and live tweeting during SIKM Leaders Community calls.



  • Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs, 2000–2001
  • University of Oxford, 1987–1990
  • University of New Brunswick


  • Principal, Above and Beyond KM, 2013 — Present
  • Columbia University
  1. Academic Director, M.S. in Information & Knowledge Strategy (IKNS), 2018–2020
  2. Adjunct Faculty, M.S. Information and Knowledge Strategy, 2013–2018
  • Co-Founder, Broadli Inc, 2013–2015
  • Debevoise & Plimpton LLP
  1. Counsel, 2004–2012
  2. Associate (Corporate Knowledge Management), 2001–2003
  3. Associate (Corporate Transactions), 1991–2001




  1. Turkey Trauma KM
  2. Engaging the Elephant
  3. KM Time Capsule
  4. A Brave New World with ChatGPT
  • KMWorld Connect 2021 Session Notes
  1. AI Practice and Ethics for KM
  2. Current Landscape and Future Outlook for AI in KM
  3. Intelligent Search in Action
  4. Walmart’s Content Management Journey
  5. Snowden Keynote: Rewilding Knowledge: Sense-Making in a World of Uncertainty
  6. Leveraging the New Normal to Drive Adoption of Enterprise Search
  7. Keynote: The Future of Work Means Dealing with Disruption
  8. Augmented Intelligence for the Enterprise
  9. Learning Strategy & KM
  10. Tomorrow’s KM Leaders: Education for KMers


  1. 7 Signs Your Organization is NOT Ready for the Future of Work
  2. Are We Failing at Failing?
  3. Connection Before Content Matters at Work and School
  4. Seeing is Understanding
  5. Your Innovation Angle
  • Publications
  1. Measure Better to Manage Better
  2. Measure Better to Manage Better — Part 2
  3. Smart Knowledge Management Needs Artificial Intelligence
  4. Ask the Expert: The Art of Professional Networking
  5. Paying Attention to the Canaries in KM’s Mineshaft
  6. Breaking the Barriers to Knowledge Sharing
  7. Steep Learning Curves Move a Career Forward
  8. Moving Beyond KM for Dogs
  9. When Technologists Nudge


1. Sustainable KM


Obviously, the most reliable way to avoid depleting a resource is to stop using it altogether. However, in many circumstances that simply is not an option. So the next best thing is to reduce the demand for the declining resource. If the resource is a component in another product, this may mean finding a way to do without the component or to replace it with another more abundant resource.

Of the many resources we use in law firm KM, perhaps the most critical resource is the people involved, both in the KM department and among our internal and external clients. So how do we preserve people? By eliminating unnecessary demands on their time and energy. In practice, this means eliminating from every KM process or interaction any wasteful steps that require someone to do things that could be done better by someone or something else.

A good way to smoke out these wasteful steps is to watch someone try to perform the process and note the points at which that person becomes annoyed or frustrated. That is a sure sign that they feel put upon. And when you make too many demands of this type on the same person, you lose their goodwill, support, and participation. Another way to identify problems is to put yourself in the shoes of your clients and map their journey. What do you experience and how does that make you feel? If you feel depleted when you already know and understand the process, how much more depleted will your client feel?

Once you have identified the points of waste in your system, you need to find ways to eliminate them. Sometimes, it is an issue of designing a better user interface. Sometimes the problem lurks in the background and needs to be addressed through better architecture or smarter processes. Consider whether targeted education delivered just in time might help reduce the sense of depletion only after you have dealt with the design and structural issues. But a word to the wise: never fall back on education to provide a Band-Aid for poor structure or design. The client always knows when they are being asked to shoulder too much of the laboring oar. And they will resent it, and you.

While the preceding discussion has focused on the depletion of your clients’ time and energy, it is also important to track and address any wasteful steps in your internal KM processes that lead your KM team to feel depleted. Once they lose their energy, their client-facing work will suffer. As one of the clients I consult with told me recently, “Our team is feeling beaten down and that makes it hard to bring any enthusiasm to our work.”


In a world of disposable K-Cups, it is tempting to use things once and then move on to something new. However, when you have a mindset of sustainability, you actively look for ways to reuse what you have so you do not need to deplete additional resources in the creation of something new.

While a lot of law firm information management and KM practice is focused on reusing the intellectual resources of the firm — and there certainly is a place for that — I would invite you to consider the most important asset you have that ought to be reused without fail: your lessons learned. Do you have processes in place to ensure you elicit the learning from every client engagement or internal project? Then, do you have processes in place to ensure what you learned is incorporated into your current practices and services? Finally, do you have processes in place to ensure that people are actually following the new practices? As you can see, when you implement this approach, you create a virtuous cycle in which the firm is constantly learning and, through effective feedback loops, constantly reflecting that learning in improved practices. In this manner you create a rising tide that lifts all boats. This is an amazing outcome given that all you wanted to do initially was forestall depletion by reusing what you have.


The process of recycling converts waste into usable materials. There are at least two variations of recycling: downcycling and upcycling. Downcycling “involves breaking down an item or substance into its component elements to reuse anything that can be salvaged.” This process usually results in products of reduced functionality or lower quality. Upcycling, on the other hand, “involves adding value to an item for reuse.” The resulting product often is of higher quality or functionality than the original product. For example, plastic soda bottles are broken down and then come back to consumers in the form of clothing or carpeting. Or, consumer electronics are refurbished and resold.

In the context of law firm KM, we speak of recycling precedents from one client matter to another. But do we have the necessary processes to make this simple and routine? Can people easily find the precedents they want? Better yet, is there a way of serving up the recyclable material at a lawyer’s moment of need?

Moving beyond mere recycling, have we found ways to upcycle our materials? Are they embedded in process maps and checklists? Have they been automated or otherwise enhanced? Have they been bundled into resources for continuing legal education for lawyers within the firm or for clients? All of these methods create products of greater value than their source. This is the benefit of smart upcycling.


If you go to a drugstore to buy over-the-counter pain medication, you are likely to get a cardboard package containing blister wrap, or a plastic bottle with a plastic safety seal, cotton wool, and enough tablets to fill barely one-half of the bottle. This is hugely wasteful. Unfortunately, this approach to packaging is not limited to the pharmaceutical industry. Just think of all the over-packaged products you have purchased during the last year.

In response to growing pressure for reduced and sustainable packaging, consumer products companies are rethinking their approach to packaging. Now they ask, do we need packaging at all? If we do, what is the minimum possible amount of packaging necessary? And can that packaging be made from recycled materials?

This rethinking mindset is every bit as valuable in law firm KM as it is in consumer-packaged goods. While you may not be producing packaged materials, it is worth asking if your channels of service delivery — both internally and externally — are streamlined and efficient. Are your products and services easy to find and easy to use? Are your communications straightforward and effective?

Taking one step back, ask if your processes are designed for reliable long-term service or short-term bursts of effort. In my earlier article advocating Infinite Energy KM I noted the difference between various KM projects:

  • Treadmills are projects that happen only through the diligent application of human effort. When the effort is interrupted the project dies.
  • Windmills are projects that are powered by existing firm processes and do not require a special application of human effort. However, there are times when the wind is still. Then what do you do?
  • Watermills are projects that are blessed with a relatively steady supply of energy, barring a drought or an upstream dam.
  • Infinite energy projects are self-perpetuating in that they create enough energy to keep themselves running.

As you rethink your projects and processes, consider the following proposal from Infinite Energy KM:

“The question KM professionals should ask themselves with respect to every project is this: are we setting up a process that relies on brute force (treadmill); periodic external energy (windmill); or near constant energy, barring intervention upstream or climate change (watermill)? Or have we set up a system that will of its own accord create the energy necessary to make it self-perpetuating? If we can design projects that are self-perpetuating, then we will have found our KM equivalent of the infinite energy generator.”

To identify or create an infinite energy generator, first look at the workflow related to your project. Then ask if the incentives to use that workflow, supported by its ease of use, are sufficient to generate a return to the user in time and effort invested, such that the user will voluntarily participate time and time again. Better yet, is that return high enough to change that user into an evangelist?

Finally, while you are in rethinking mode, go back to basics. Do an inventory of all the KM activities conducted by your team and ask the following critical question: are we spending our time and energy on the right things? This is the most fundamental and, perhaps, most valuable form of rethinking. When you get this right, everything works better.

2. Where is Your Failure Report?

Consider what you might write if you told the truth about what’s happening on your watch. What would change if you successfully identified repeatable lessons that could be shared with your colleagues. What if those lessons were incorporated in your organization’s operating procedures? To be clear, this is not about paying lip service to transparency with an occasional after action review or, worse still, a database of lessons learned that no one ever consults. Rather, this is about encouraging attitudes and behaviors that enable us to share knowledge, learn and innovate. It’s about creating an organizational culture that is more honest and, perhaps, a tad more humble.

3. 7 Signs Your Organization is NOT Ready for the Future of Work

  1. Command and control still rules.
  2. Distance is a big deal.
  3. Social risk is ignored.
  4. Technology is not used to facilitate shared values and outcomes.
  5. Innovation is discussed but poorly executed.
  6. Collaboration is a coin toss, not a thoughtfully planned strategy.
  7. Change is implemented in a top-down, episodic manner.

As Quoted by Me

  1. 16 KM Myths Debunked (see the excellent notes)
  2. Knowledge Management 101?
  3. When is a Wiki Worth the Effort?
  4. How Wikis Mess With Your Mind
  5. Digital Workplace Trends and Transformation
  6. The Knowledge Supply Chain #KMWorld
  7. Lessons from Peter Drucker
  8. Is Your Knowledge Management Strategic?
  9. Can E2.0 Crack Through KM Culture?
  10. Winning the Customer Experience Arms Race
  11. True Leaders Value Mistakes
  12. Hardwiring KM Into Your Client Work
  13. E2.0’s Gift to Law Firms
  14. Microsoft’s 7 Essential E2.0 Truths
  15. Middle-Earth Communication Methods
  16. 2012 KMWorld Keynote Summary
  17. Keynote: The Disrupted Mindset
  18. Dave Snowden Keynote: Big Data vs Human Data
  19. David Weinberger KMWorld Keynote: Too Big to Know
  20. C205: Industry Leaders Conversation: Change, Culture, & Learning
  21. Luis Suarez
  22. Shawn Callahan
  23. Forget Gen Y! Focus on the Disappearing Boomers
  24. Online Communities — A Strategic Imperative [#e2conf]
  25. Intranet
  26. Best Practice
  27. ROI
  28. Change Management
  29. Search
  30. Storytelling
  31. Metrics
  32. Appreciative Inquiry
  33. Blogging

Posts by Others

  1. What are you searching for?
  2. Analyzing searches in a Community of Practice
  3. Computers cannot know
  1. Metrics for Insight
  2. Easy Pickings
  1. Social Task Management — When Social Business Got Down to Work — #e2conf Highlights
  2. #e2conf Highlights — Online Community Building Methodologies, SNA, Task Centric Computing, Gamification, Social Learning, Social Fatigue…
  3. My Top 10 Reasons Why I Bought an iPad
  4. Is Multitasking Bad for the Brain?
  5. Enterprise 2.0 Conference Highlights — A Proposal for DIA

Community and Conferences

SIKM Leaders Community

  1. October, 2011: Social Media in the Enterprise: the future is here — how can we make it work? with Tom Short, Peter Hobby, and Kate Pugh — Slides

2. November 2014: The Other KM Adoption ChallengeSlides

ISKO Singapore 2016

1. Slides

2. Part 1

3. Part 2


  1. W6: Designing Collaboration for Success
  2. W17: Creative Techniques for Facilitating Change


1. Optimizing Law Firm Support Functions

Table of Contents

  1. Chapter 1: The challenge to optimize (includes Knowledge sharing and collaboration)
  2. Chapter 2: Specific optimization opportunities (includes Optimizing the library function)
  3. Chapter 3: Optimization requires strategy
  4. Chapter 4: Leadership and optimization
  5. Chapter 5: Optimize through collaboration (includes Silos, Collaboration, Case study: Collaborate to reposition the firm in the market, Collaborate through a supporting role, Case study: Collaborate to create an engine for innovation, Collaboration in the C-suite)
  6. Chapter 6: Optimize by changing the game (includes Change the game with better training, Case study: Client-facing learning and development, Change the game with smarter technology)

2. Book chapter in Smarter Innovation: Using Interactive Processes to Drive Better Business Results edited by Katrina Pugh

  • Chapter 7: Broadli: Drinking my own champagne
  1. How to find help
  2. How to connect
  3. Social capital and reciprocity
  4. Broadli
  5. Create a network of generosity



Stan Garfield

Knowledge Management Author and Speaker, Founder of SIKM Leaders Community, Community Evangelist, Knowledge Manager https://sites.google.com/site/stangarfield/