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If you send your RFP to fewer firms, each is likely to try harder and respond better

A series of experiments has found that the more participants there are in a competition, on average the less hard people try. The studies are described in the Economist, July 11, 2009 at 82. It’s as if people have an intuitive sense of their odds, and they ratchet up their effort when the odds are better, slack off when the odds worsen.

If you tell law firms that you send an RFP the names of the other firms, therefore, it should have some effect on their effort. If only three other firms are in the mix, each firm’s proposal team should judge their chances to be better than if there were 25 teams competing (See my post of March 30, 2008: RFP with 22 references.).

Likewise, these studies suggest that the more direct reports there are to a general counsel, the less hard – on average – each one of them will strive to become the next general counsel. Perhaps a bit far-fetched, but there is intuitive plausibility: “My odds are lower/higher, so my ambition will be tempered/heightened.”