See if any of these scenarios ring a bell.

In your haste to hire a salesperson, you got someone who lost money for your company. You won the sales hat back temporarily while more thoughtfully rewriting the job description and interviewing replacement candidates.

You tried to be cutting edge by using new products, but you got burned when they didn’t perform as intended. You learned to stand back and let other remodelers be the guinea pigs.

You thought you could get away with hiring subcontractors that didn’t have workers’ comp insurance. When you were audited and had to pay out thousands of dollars, you made it policy that your subs had coverage.

In these and countless other hypothetical remodeling scenarios, you (as a company owner) took shortcuts based on your previous experience, learned a few lessons, and adjusted your practices going forward.

I consider this your schema: how you interpret vast amounts of information based on your previous experience.

Used properly, your schema can help you. For instance, each time you tackle a challenge — whether it involves replacing a patio door or assessing a prospective client — your instincts are sharper. Similarly, if a mistake leaves you embarrassed or poorer, you are motivated to get it right the next time.

However, your schema can also put up blinders that cause you to ignore pertinent information that conflicts with your preexisting beliefs and ideas. This can get you into trouble. For instance, you never had a problem with your contract, so you never got a lawyer to review it. Until you got sued.

Reality, Vigilance, and Forethought

Here’s another way your schema can put up blinders: If you’ve been in business for 15 years or fewer, your schema has been that the current business slowdown will be short-lived and that things will return to normal if you wait it out. If you were in business during the 1980s, your schema may tell you that things can take quite a while to get back to normal.

Well, I have been in remodeling for more than 30 years. My schema tells me that this recession and any recovery will not be like anything I have experienced. My schema also tells me to remain alert to what is different this time, not what appears to be the same as the past. We are only in the beginning stages of any evolution toward a “new normal” for remodeling. Because neither you nor I have a schema for what has never happened, we must leverage the schemas we do have.

For example, one of my consulting clients never knew what a balance sheet was until he had cash-flow problems. Now he uses his balance sheet to help him recognize problems before his bills are due. When he is low on cash, he calls his creditors before they bill him to let them know he will be late. Instead of dreading creditors’ calls when his payments are late, he now receives thanks for giving them a heads-up.

Two more tips for advancing your schema.

Take advantage of educational programs. Several classes over a period of time give you a better chance of evolving your schema than a one-shot seminar or workshop. After each class, you can test out what you learned, discuss that experience at your next class, and learn from your instructor and classmates how to improve.

Seek insights from a coach or mentor. Ideally, this person will have his or her own schema for what you are trying to learn. By being there when you’re challenged, he or she will make advancing your schema a quicker and less frustrating process.

Above all, keep evolving. Never be complacent. Just when you think you have it all figured out will be when something changes — say, new competition emerges — that could derail or threaten your strategy. To avoid becoming a commodity, you must already be on the next opportunity before you’ve been copied. That’s my schema.

—Shawn McCadden founded, operated, and sold a successful design/build company. A co-founder of the Residential Design/Build Institute and former director of education for a national K&B remodeling franchise, Shawn speaks at industry events and consults with remodeling companies. [email protected].