Exotic Pairing: Value Chain Analysis & Literature of the Later Middle Ages

Value Chain Analysis might not be the first thing you would turn to when studying Comparative Literature generally and Literature of the Later Middle Ages particularly; I am learning it is a rather handy pairing.  It turns out the discipline and structured thinking from a career in business is a good tool for approaching great literature.  A few years ago English Studies loomed before me as a great romantic mystery; now I find the discipline of academic scholarship comforting and productive. The disciplined approach to the art of language is highly rewarding; I can benefit academically by applying analysis skills to my study process.

Analyzing my study process is important because the whole project can seem very overwhelming at the beginning of a term or the beginning of study. Many colleagues express this in our student forums; how do we begin, stay on track and know if we achieve learning outcomes?  I constantly ask myself these questions and empathize with colleagues just starting out on their academic journey.  My efforts at ‘value analysis’ are important this term because I must uniquely  focus on language while reading Literature of the Later Middle Ages just to make the texts comprehensible.  Comprehension of these texts has slowed my reading process because assumptions about meaning cannot be extracted from cursory impressions like they can from reading more contemporary texts. I have to really think about every page to understand what the author is trying to say. What does this have to do with Porter’s value chain analysis?

To paraphrase Michael Porter in ‘Competitive Advantage: Creating and Sustaining Superior Performance,’ the value chain means every step of a process should contribute to the value of a product; my products are learning outcomes and exam results. While reading Chaucer, Henryson, Kempe and even Malory I have to pay strict attention, practically at the level of phonemes, just to understand the words. Because of this I must also carefully check if my daily study serves learning outcomes. Now I ask questions about historical context, how a text expresses genre conventions or how narration and point of view are constructed on a page by page basis. This daily, and sometimes hourly, analysis of text is an important contribution to my study process and my understanding of what could be considered some exotic reading.

Exotic is how I might describe all the literature I have read for this degree; so far approximately sixty-seven primary texts. However there is nothing exotic about exams. Reading this particular unit with this particular study strategy has helped me analyze how my daily study method contributes to my exam results, for better or for worse. Like all good analysis it produces data on both sides of the equation; what contributes to ‘value’ and what diminishes value in a product. My products, learning outcomes and exam results, have come into quite sharp focus thanks to Mr. Porter’s value chain and the unique demands of studying Literature of the Later Middle Ages; an exotic though valuable pairing.

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