Happy New Year! I love holidays because the fog of daily work lifts and important things become clearer. This year, over Christmas, what became suddenly and sparkingly clear is that mobile’s biggest impact is that it shifts power away from institutions and toward individuals. People have a huge advantage when they carry the full power of the Internet and Internet-delivered services in their pockets.

The only question is whether you shift power to customers and employees willingly (and to benefit your company) or whether a disrupter or competitor does it for you. To develop your intution of just how powerful mobile apps make you — and just how much you’ve come to take them for granted — imagine yourself in a room with 30 strangers listening to my colleague Thomas Husson.

Thomas opens the presentation with these words: “Pull your smartphone out of your pocket. [Pause.] Now unlock it. [Pause.] Now hand it to the person next to you.” You immediately feel tense and uncomfortable as you wonder if you should really hand your unlocked phone to a stranger . . . or even a friend or family member. A few people actually do hand their phones over, albeit reluctantly. Thomas then breaks the tension with a chuckle and the room titters with nervous laughter. Two things just happened:

  • First, you realized that you were being asked to hand everything that defines you to a total stranger. Your most intimate and empowering things would be someone else’s. Your bank accounts, your friends, your photos, your shopping list, your email, your documents, your sense of self. You would be handing your identity to a stranger.
  • Second, you realized that you felt suddenly powerless — deprived of the things you need to get through the day. Without a smartphone, you’d have to remember to print directions to the doctor’s office before you left home. Or stay at your desk to keep a project moving. Or go to an ATM or bank branch to deposit a check or check a balance. Or carry a newspaper to have the day’s events in your pocket. Or find a television to get the weather report or a real-time sports score. Or wait until you get back online to check a price or tomorrow’s weather or your Facebook — or do anything, really. You would be handing the things that make you powerful to a stranger.

You don’t want to give your phone to anyone. Your smartphone is deeply personal — much more personal than a computer (or a tablet, for that matter). The tension you felt in the room makes sense when you realize that smartphones are like shoes: They give you the power to go anywhere and do anything with full confidence that you won’t stub your toe. Being deprived of that power makes us intensely uncomfortable. It’s why we turn the car around when we leave home without our smartphone. It’s why we pay the cost of data plans. It’s why we hang on every Apple announcement hoping that its next phone will make us even more powerful.

The mobile power shift will touch every aspect of our lives at home and at work. We will no longer step out of the physical world into an online world to have the full power of the Internet at our disposal. This power shift will change how companies and institutions treat us and how they empower their own employees to take action in their immediate context and moments of need.

Just how far will this power shift go? The presence of 700,000 apps in the App Store says that it will go pretty far. We see a world in which:

  • Swarms of mobile innovators will target your customers and employees.
  • You will either shift power to customers and employees — or watch while someone else does.
  • Consumers and employees and patients and citizens will bring mobile power to every real-world setting.
  • People will control their most important assets with their mobile devices.
  • Some markets will be destroyed because they aren’t matched to people’s desire to live in the real world and not online.
  • New markets will be created to serve a person’s immediate physical and emotional context.
  • Life without a smartphone will be a life bereft of power or control or confidence.
  • A new digital divide will rise between people with mobile power and those without it.
  • You will learn how to harness your company’s unique assets to be a powerful provider.
  • You will empower your employees with mobile apps so they can serve powerful customers in real world.

Our mission in 2013 is to help you anticipate and prepare for then execute and deliver this inevitable power shift. Please reach out if you want to talk about how you are shifting power to individuals or what it would mean for your customer or business.