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Alberto Fernández, Professor, IESE, University of Navarra

One hundred dollars

Wed, 30 Jun 2010 11:01:44 +0000 Published in ABC (Catalonia)

team member Earlier this month, several media outlets, including this newspaper, reported that Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers, after playing a game at the Los Angeles Lakers in February, asked each player and coach of his team for a hundred dollars and hid them in a false ceiling loft in the visiting locker room. The only way to get them back was to reach the NBA Finals, which at the time seemed very difficult for the Celtics.

It is said that he did this to motivate players. The lowest paid player on the Celtics is paid a million dollars and the average is over six million. Can the possibility of getting a hundred dollars back motivate players who are paid such amounts? Leaving a hundred dollars in the locker room for a player who is paid a million is equivalent to leaving two for a person who is paid twenty thousand. Or it may even represent a relatively smaller effort if we take into account that the low earner needs that money to cover basic needs.

A basketball player probably has numerous motivations for making it to the NBA Finals of which money is the least relevant. And a hundred dollars is insignificant. In fact, the championship ring has a much higher value. And it sure wasn't the motivation to get to the finals and win it either.

Motivation can be generated on the basis of rewards or punishments, but these should not leave the person to be motivated indifferent, whether or not the desired event occurs. Sensitivity to a award or economic punishment can vary depending on the person. They are extrinsic motivations and, as such, will depend on the economic level of each person. An NBA player will have little sensitivity to losing a hundred dollars while a teenager may be very affected.

But perhaps Doc Rivers, an excellent coach, was not so wrong to use that motivational technique. What Rivers may have intended was to appeal to the pride of his players, who left something in the big rival's locker room that they wanted to get back. Or the thought that their coach didn't have enough confidence that they could make it to the finals. They wanted to show him that they were capable, that they could do it. Money was only a means, not an end in itself.

We also play a game of dominoes with friends over coffee and what matters least is the economic value of the coffee. What motivates us? The desire to beat the other guy and see his face when he pays or, in the case of the Celtics players, to show their coach that he was wrong and the desire not to let him down. These are intrinsic motivations, as reaching the finals could help them feel good about the accomplishment.

There could also be some of what we at IESE call transcendent motivation, which has to do with the good that is done for others. Perhaps Rivers was generating, even without knowing it, a team feeling that could lead players to try harder and work better to help teammates achieve their goal, consistent, incidentally, with the Celtics' locker room motto: "Individuals win games, teams win championships.

The Celtics finally reached the final, and lost it after seven thrilling games They got their hundred dollars back. I'm sure the players would have given a lot more to win it.