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The Perfect Time to Make a Fortune

Genius is, to some extent, a matter of luck. It's who your parents are and what genes happen to blend with which others.

And while it certainly doesn't hurt to be a genius, intellect alone is hardly the sole determinant of success, as Malcolm Gladwell cleverly demonstrates in his fascinating new book, Outliers: The Story of Success. Rather, it is the result of environment and, perhaps more than anything else, opportunities to utilize that extraordinary intelligence.

Bill Gates is a genius. Steve Jobs is a genius. Eric Schmidt is a genius. But the brain behind Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) , the brilliant and visionary co-founder of Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) , and the software revolution pioneer who ran Novell (Nasdaq: NOVL  ) and became the CEO of Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) all had more than good genes in common. These three men, who made billions for investors in the companies they helped build, shared the luck of the calendar -- all three were born in 1955, the year that Gladwell establishes as the perfect time to take advantage of the wave of personal computing.

He sets that window based on January 1975. That month's issue of Popular Electronics ran the cover headline "Project Breakthrough! The World's First Minicomputer Kit to Rival Commercial Models," trumpeting the paradigm-changing arrival of the Altair 8800, a $397 do-it-yourself computer.

By the time that cover story came out, those computer geniuses who were born before 1952 would already be working at IBM (NYSE: IBM  ) and be too established in their thinking and their lives to jump into the new arena of personal computing. Those who were still in high school when that fateful magazine hit the newsstands would be too young to truly get in on the ground floor. The sweet spot for geniuses to capitalize was to be roughly 20 or 21. In addition to our three earlier examples, the list of geniuses who fit in that window includes Paul Allen, Steve Ballmer, and computer legend Bill Joy, along with the three other geniuses with whom Joy founded Sun Microsystems (Nasdaq: JAVA  ) .

Beyond the mouse
It's not just the computer revolution, either. Gladwell lists the 75 richest people in history (calculated in current U.S. dollars), including everyone from John D. Rockefeller (the richest with $318.3 billion) to Amenophis III (who made his $155.2 billion in the pharaoh business). Amazingly, in this history of the world's richest people from Cleopatra to Warren Buffett, almost 20% of the names (14 of the 75) are Americans who were born within nine years of one another.

Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, Frederick Weyerhauser, Marshall Field, and J.P. Morgan were some of the geniuses who were lucky enough to ride the wave of perhaps the greatest transformation in our country's history, making billions and creating enduring companies.

As Gladwell writes, railroads were being built, Wall Street emerged, industrial manufacturing began in earnest, and "all the rules by which the traditional economy had functioned were broken and remade."

By being geniuses at the right time, all of these people became startlingly wealthy, as did the people who recognized those geniuses who had positioned themselves -- through intellect and some major help from the changing world around them -- to capitalize.

The waves and geniuses of tomorrow
The challenge for investors today is finding the waves that will present geniuses with the opportunities to make similar earth-shattering creations ... and the fortunes that come with them. The investing team at Rule Breakers has a stated goal of finding the disruptive technologies that change the world -- and the brains behind them.

These days, the team is finding outstanding companies in emerging fields such as biogenerics (generic versions of drugs made from hard-to-manufacture proteins), robotics, and (possibly the most intriguing) nanotechnology -- fields that might one day be as important as the industrial revolution and personal computing, and as lucrative for clued-in investors. To see their five favorite stocks to buy right now, click here for a no-obligation 30-day free trial.

As Gladwell writes, "The sense of possibility so necessary for success comes not just from inside us or from our parents. It comes from our time: from the particular opportunities that our particular place in history presents us with."

For investors, figuring out the opportunities of our time is the story of success.

Roger Friedman owned a TRS-80 and a Commodore 64, but didn't do anything with either that could be mistaken for genius. He owns shares in none of the companies mentioned. Apple is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. Microsoft is an Inside Value selection. Google is a Rule Breakers pick. The Fool is investors writing for investors.

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  • Report this Comment On January 27, 2009, at 4:26 PM, FinancialFellow wrote:

    Interesting bit of trivia on Gates, Schmidt, and Jobs. I hadn't realized that. I'm all for finding outstanding companies in emerging fields. I'm sure if you had jumped on the Microsoft band wagon when their stock was first sold you would have done pretty well.

    Before you put all of your available cash into stocks, though, I think you should take a look closer to home. If you work for a company with an employee stock purchase program you can generate very good returns by buying the stock and unloading it right away:

    These plans can differ greatly from one company to the next with some plans being more lucrative than others. My plan yields a 15% return in, at most, 3 months. After you make your quick profit in an ESP plan, feel free to use that money to invest in emerging companies...

  • Report this Comment On January 28, 2009, at 11:00 PM, jeffmerkey wrote:

    Eric Schmidt a Genius?

    I think you are mistaking greed and ruthlessness for genius. Please point us to the patents in computer science this idiot created -- or perhaps his brilliant contributions to computer science?

    When I first met Eric Schmidt, I was Chief Scientist of Novell. His first official action was to fire Ty Mattingly, the person who got him hired. Next he ruthlessly eliminated Novell's brain trust. I resigned 15 minutes after I left his office during our first meeting -- I will never forget the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach after listening to him for 30 minutes talk about how smart he was.

    His contributions were to artificially inflate Novell's the stock buy using billions of Novell's assets to buy back the stock -- which collapsed from $40/share to $3/share almost overnight. He was in fact on the road to being fired from the company when he left. Next he lands at Google, and of course, did what he did best -- scam Wall Street out of billions of dollars -- not to mention he did not create a single bit of technology since coming to Google. He was shoe-horned into the company by Silicon Valley VC's at Sequoia Capital to run an IPO scam and line everyone's pockets with dollars.

    In the grand scheme, no one remembers Solari, the nemesis of Mozart who was fabulously rich, but a total loser when it came to composing. Mozart died in poverty, but is remembered for his genius, all the while Solari hounded him and oppressed every attempt during his life to get his music heard by the masses.

    Schmidt destroyed Novell's channels, ran off all the distributors and CNE's, and took Novell from industry leader to a has been. What planet are you from, or do you just read the self-promoting propaganda this idiot has littered the press with for the past 10 years -- or perhaps by sucking up you think you'll get some of those $$$. Forget it, this guy will cut off your head and dump you in a gutter. He's not a genius, just a ruthless greedy toad who steps on and burns everyone who crosses his path -- just like Gates and the other toad you mentioned.

    Einstein was a genius, Pasteur was genius. Look to people who create benefit for humanity. My IQ is over 190 and I am smart enough to realize that people who collect piles of clam shells (i.e. money) by bamboozling them from the stupid and ignorant (and the greedy who are the easiest marks on the planet) are forgotten in the long march of history.

    Get those dollar signs out of your eyes and wake up.



  • Report this Comment On January 31, 2009, at 1:14 PM, GerardDelbarre wrote:

    @jeffmerkey: Empty vessels make the greatest noise: of course, "no one remembers Solari" the (alleged) Mozart's Nemesis... because his name was actually Antonio Salieri! And no, it's not a typo in your comment (you wrote it "Solari" more than once)... By the way, uncultured persons should not brag about their IQ. Just my humble opinion...


  • Report this Comment On February 01, 2009, at 12:53 AM, jeffmerkey wrote:


    Can you spell this word -- "TROLL".


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