Peter Lynch is one of the greatest investors of our time. The master stock picker steered the Fidelity Magellan mutual fund to astronomical gains and became the industry's first legitimate rock star.
He found great growth stocks early by kicking tires, questioning the competition for ideas, and taking his family to the shopping mall. Yes, the mall. That was where Lynch would take his wife and daughters and then morph into a sponge as he absorbed where they were shopping and what retail trends they saw emerging among their friends.
Lynch retired early and put his common sense to good use by writing investor-empowering classics like One Up on Wall Street and Beating the Street.
Here's where it gets good, though. As great as Lynch was, you're actually in a much better position today than he ever was in his prime. Yes, you can beat a celebrity investor at his own game. It's easier than you think.
Be the Lynch version 2.0
Imagine the ability to take not just Lynch's family to the mall, but also your neighbor's kids, your town's shopaholic mayor, and a complete stranger's niece. The Internet makes it possible.
Information has come a long way, my friend. One of my first jobs when I started writing for the Fool in 1995 was to sum up corporate conference calls.
Analysts and select journalists were the only ones with the ability to access these meaty quarterly admissions. That wasn't right, so we went ahead and peeled back the curtain for individual investors. We leaked the skinny on information that many full-service brokerage houses were hoarding away for their choice accounts.
A lot has happened over the past decade. Selective disclosure is a naughty no-no, and rare is the company that hasn't opened up its conference calls to anyone with a telephone or an online connection through Webcasts.
Thanks to sites like ours, you know what a company is expected to earn long before it steps up to the quarterly podium.
A site like Bankrate.com can show you what all of the leading financial institutions are paying on their CDs and money market accounts. A site like Morningstar can have you pitting the performance of one mutual fund to that of a rival.
This is the kind of information that makes you a better-educated investor. The playing field has been leveled. Insight is easily accessible. Due diligence is more than crossing your fingers as you rely on your broker.
But, wait. It gets better. You can now tip that playing field in your favor by cashing in on the power of community. It's that mall trip with all of the world's fashion and gadget junkie kids to find the hot retail concept that will sport monster comps in its next report. It's discovering the software maker behind that breakthrough title that all of your nephew's friends are playing.
You have that luxury because now you have the ability to use the Internet as a way to harness the power of community and grasp the amalgamation of personal knowledge.
More than just a game
This week's beta rollout of Motley Fool CAPS is an intriguing stock-picking experience on its face, but there's a lot to learn once you dive beneath the hot and bubbly surface.
How much better do you think Lynch would have been as an investor if he had the ability to borrow the opinions of hundreds -- if not thousands or tens of thousands -- of like-minded investors? He was able to single out retail winners on his own like Pier 1 (NYSE: PIR ) , and Taco Bell before it became a Yum! Brands (NYSE: YUM ) subsidiary. Can you imagine what an army of Lynch disciples could accomplish today? They'd be able to hit the mall and spot the trends before they happened -- they could have hopped on Urban Outfitters (Nasdaq: URBN ) before it soared to its $33 heights, and American Eagle Outfitters (Nasdaq: AEOS ) earlier this year when it was trading near its 52-week lows. Of course, they'd also have known enough to hop off Hot Topic (Nasdaq: HOTT ) before watching its stock price plummet in recent months.
Underestimate the power of community, and risk the embarrassment of having the collective horde chant, "I told you so" at the top of their astute lungs.
I should know. One of the liveliest Motley Fool communities during my earliest days of Fooldom was the group of investors following a small data storage company called Iomega (NYSE: IOM ) . The company's new Zip was about to give the floppy disk a run for its money, and it was amazing to see the Fool community in action. From retail channel checks to someone physically counting the cars in the production lot over the weekend, the devout trend spotters got in early on a stock that would prove to be one of the market's best performers. America Online, years before it became a Time Warner (NYSE: TWX ) appendage, provided the ideal discussion board interface where the great stocks of tomorrow were being nailed down early, in concert.
I'm kicking myself because I was there. I saw it all. I somehow chose not to buy a slice of Iomega.
With CAPS, I have another chance to be the early bird. I can scour through top-rated stocks, as well as dig deeper into the service to find what the best pickers are buying and selling. It's not a matter of being a lemming and following just a lone voice in the wilderness over a cliff. That's yesterday's cocktail party logic. Tomorrow is all about tapping the collective spirit of successful individuals to ferret out the next great stock idea.
There's power in the data, opportunity in the numbers, and wealth in the community.
Sorry, Lynch, you're toast.
Motley Fool CAPS is a FREE new community-driven experience where individual investors pool their knowledge to compete for top stock-picking honors. Are you up to the challenge? Go ahead andgive it a shot.
Time Warner and American Eagle Outfitters areMotley Fool Stock Advisorpicks. Bankrate is aMotley Fool Rule Breakersselection.
Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz believes in taking chances to earn superior returns. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story. Rick is also part of theRule Breakersnewsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has adisclosure policy.