Developing ‘Commercial Awareness’ – OurWarwick

Developing ‘Commercial Awareness’

As a quick summary, I explore the importance of developing commercial awareness as a university student followed by tips and tricks to strengthen it through useful resources and how to make it a habit.

Commercial awareness supports internship preparation and academia

When preparing for summer internship applications, the thing I found most difficult was developing strong commercial awareness. The advice I have previously got was ‘read the Financial Times’, but I found this overwhelming as it didn’t solve the issue of consistency and it seemed to mean missing key trends and the bigger picture. Also, first-year Macroeconomics taught me that commercial awareness is a fundamental muscle for undergraduate economics students that once again, I struggled to master.

Whether asked what you think about ESG, a news item that has interested you, who the winners and losers have been from COVID, or what you see as the greatest economic threats over the next 12 months: it is being detail-oriented and specific that will convince someone you are commercially aware.

Marshall your resources and make it a habit

I began to realise a few hacks to developing commercial awareness after talking to others that had seemed to master this mammoth task. I’ll take each of these hacks in turn:

  1. Use newsletters: E.g. find your favourite from Andrew Ross Sorkin, the FT selection, Pitchbook (great Sunday edition albeit American focused), Morning Brew, Techcrunch, Snippet Finance (from the legendary Yuri Khodjamirian).
  2. Listen to podcasts: FT daily podcast (it’s free), Finimize (if you’re interested in things related to the finance sector), BBC business news podcasts.
  3. Use consulting reports: If you want to get a deeper understanding of a major trend (e.g. the next inflexion point of the mobility tech, e-sports, or challenges faced by the financial sector), then check out consulting reports – this is what the industry professionals use.
  4. Make it a habit: once you have your favourite newsletter, make reading and taking snippets from it a habit. I love the technique of habit stacking (see Atomic Habits by James Clear), where you layer it onto an existing habit.

How I ‘habit stack’

  1. Just after planning my day, I would load up the Techcrunch and Andrew Ross Sorkin newsletter, only to add my favourite parts in a Word Doc where I have accumulated my favourite snippets (using headings and the navigation panel to keep things organised). City AM is a great alternative to FT if you want something more concise to read through.
  2. Just before I have a shower, I either do a mini-10-minute workout or go for a light run where I listen to the FT podcast followed by another podcast e.g. Finimize (on 2x speed, so it takes a very small amount of time to get through).

Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day of this, but never miss 2 days, because after 2 days, you risk losing the habit (also talked about in Atomic Habits).

Another key note is that listening to a podcast and reading a newsletter double up in a powerful way, because like marketing, we need to see things multiple times before they stick. If all the resources I use mention the same trend, I know it’s a big one.

As a final note, and something I hope to blog about in the future, remember to try and enjoy the process of building commercial awareness. A book called ‘The Practicing Mind’ talks about the dangers of being too results-oriented, especially with something like commercial awareness that may take a while before you properly reap the benefits.

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