Most of the time, remodelers can stay out of trouble by just doing what comes naturally. We work with clients we like and avoid those we don't; we prefer to teach new skills to someone with a good attitude instead of the other way around; and we use materials and subcontractors we've been successful with in the past and avoid those we haven't.

Occasionally, however, the best course of action is counter-intuitive: It's just the opposite of what seems natural.

Mark Robert Halper

Maybe I've spent too much time in airports lately, but the example that comes to mind most readily is the way people behave around an airport baggage claim carousel. Typically, travelers arrive at baggage claim before their luggage does and, while they wait, most stand well back of the baggage carousel. From this vantage point, everybody has a good view of the entire length of the conveyor, so it's easy to identify your bags. But, of course, there are no bags yet. When the buzzer sounds and the conveyor finally starts moving, a few people hurry to get a good position along the curb of the carousel. The first in line gain an unobstructed wide-angle view of the oncoming bags, but they block the view of those behind them. That prompts others to crowd closer until everyone is pressed against the carousel straining to see. But anyone not in the front row can only catch a glimpse of the baggage through slim peek holes between those crowded around the curb.

Getting closer to something usually helps us to see it better, but at the baggage carousel, the closer we get, the less we can see. If we all acted counter-intuitively and kept our distance when the bags started emerging on the conveyor, everyone could see more of the conveyor, identify their bags more easily, and be on their way sooner.

Sometimes, business decisions need to run counter to what comes naturally, too. Take marketing. Most remodelers do what's natural —they market their services only when they run out of work. Unfortunately, by that time, it's too late. To be effective, we need to be counterintuitive. If we market when we don't need the work, we'll never run out.

Likewise, we don't question our personnel policies until someone leaves or some employee crisis develops. We don't monitor our customers' satisfaction levels until the job's over or they complain. We don't accelerate the work schedule until we've fallen behind. We don't call our subs until we need them.

In short, we do what comes naturally. If it ain't broke, we don't fix it. But the time to look hard for trouble is when everything seems to be going smoothly. Because trouble is brewing somewhere, and the sooner we find it the better off we'll be.

If we don't notice the roof leak until it rains, somebody's going to get wet.