Let’s play Connect-the-Dots.

Here’s a direct quote from Ray Lane, president and COO of Oracle Corporation, reported in the January 1st issue of Solutions Integrator: “The NC (network computer) is worthless without Oracle8.”

Dot 1: The network computer, a great new platform that’s supposed to free us from the tyranny of the so-called “Wintel Duopoly” by being fully buzzword compliant — open, scalable, thin-client, and all the rest.

Dot 2: Only it isn’t really open, since you can only develop applications in a single language, namely Java.

Dot 3: It isn’t thin-client no matter how you define the term, since the NC executes whatever code the server sends it, fat, thin, muscular, anemic, or bug-laden.

Dot 4: Scalable? Sure, if you’re willing to scale your network to colossal data rates and invest in ever-bigger servers.

Dot 5: Ray Lane, speaking for the company that first articulated the concept of the NC, saying it won’t work without Oracle8. I guess that “open” thing is a goner, too.

What Lane meant, of course, was that Oracle8 is a fine server platform for NCs, not that it’s the only one. What he told you is something more: Oracle invented the NC for one reason and one reason only — to sell Oracle’s server products. He also told you that Oracle is willing to, shall we say, engage in a wee bit o’ puffery in accomplishing that mission.

No surprises here. Anyone who thought Oracle’s Larry Ellison had any other reason for developing and articulating the NC lives in the kind of dream world where we all just get along and predators eat garden greens for supper because carnivory causes prey to feel too much pain.

The world of commerce resembles a complex, multi-player chess game. Some participants play deeper games than others. Bill Gates, like Bobby Fischer, is a master of the combination, while others (pick any MBA-run company you like) employ positional strategies.

You’ll benefit by evaluating your personal situation with the same conceptual tools. You have goals — programs you sponsor and want to complete, career aspirations you want to satisfy, proteges you’re helping succeed. Your colleagues — managers, peers, service recipients and staff — all have the same.

You’re all playing the same game. You may play audaciously or with caution. You may play forthrightly or with guile. You can no more avoid playing the game, though, than you can find a place with a different gravitational constant — choosing to not play simply means playing blindly and at random.

Even if you prefer to just do your job, you still benefit by playing connect-the-dots with your colleagues. Evaluate what each player says and does, and figure out how they benefit from the results.

There’s nothing wrong with assuming your coworkers are motivated by self-interest rather than the good of the company. Two decades ago, Richard Dawkins wrote a book titled The Selfish Gene, which demonstrated that at a deep evolutionary level, organisms are a gene’s way of making more genes. In part, he justified this perspective by applying game theory to how genes can succeed.

Like Dawkins’ organisms, companies are simply convenient, ephemeral constructions that exist in order to transfer wealth to their owners and employees. Your “selfish” coworkers, like Dawkins’ selfish genes, are doing exactly what they’re supposed to do, and the theory of games applies to them (and you) too.

As a result, alignment between stakeholder benefits and company health is far from automatic. If you work in a place where they do align, you’re lucky — you can advance your career the easy way, by doing what’s best for the company.

Regardless, maintain your sense of personal integrity, provide value for the company’s customers, and help your employees succeed, because that’s the right thing to do and it’s personally satisfying. But like it or not, you’re still playing the game. And because you are, you may as well play to win.