A few weeks back, Fool co-founder David Gardner discussed the six signs of a Rule Breaking company. Over the next few weeks, our analysts will be examining each of these signs in greater depth. After the series has run its course, you should be able to identify Rule Breakers for yourself. Today, we'll look at sign No. 1: Top dog and first-mover in an important industry.

Greatness happens. You just don't always notice right away. Some of the most celebrated names in history -- think Galileo or Columbus -- were ridiculed for their wild scientific observations. Earth rotating around the sun? Go east by sailing west? What seems so obvious now was outrageous enough to roll out the chopping block back then.

That's the beauty of Rule Breakers. Buying into companies that recognize a major trend early and ramp up accordingly often seems like a ludicrous notion at first. So what if Michael Dell is selling personal computers directly to the consumer? So what if Jeff Bezos wants to send a hardcover best-seller three time zones away?

That's how Rule Breakers are born, my friend. That's how the dynamic companies that will shape your future appear -- so modest yet brimming with potential in the present. They are ripe for the stock picking.

We're talking about ultimate growth stocks here. These are the portfolio-altering companies that find you waking up in a deep sweat in the middle of the night, reaching for breath mints in the morning, and introducing to your mother in the afternoon.

So what's the first sign?

Top dog and first-mover in an important, emerging industry.

Yes, this is all about companies such as Dell (NASDAQ:DELL) and Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN). No, Dell wasn't the first company to assemble a personal computer. Amazon.com wasn't the first company to mail out a book. However, Michael Dell's plan to custom build machines as the orders were placed by the end user was sound. His lean operating structure proved to be the envy of the marketplace. He ate the competition for supper. As larger rivals were stocking cookie-cutter solutions in retail outlets, Dell's direct approach resonated with the public.

Every other PC maker got to know Dell a little better as Dell's likeness grew in the rearview mirror and passed right by rivals. They were powerless to change their ways -- until it was too late. Dell was too good at what it was doing, and it carved ever-wider slices in a thickening pie.

And then came Bezos
Amazon.com had its own hurdle to clear. Until Amazon rolled around, the Internet was seen more as a platform to exchange thoughts, ideas, and phone numbers. Email, chat rooms, and reference materials felt more at home in cyberspace than a company pitching a retailing tent. Amazon changed all that.

Taking a relatively portable product (a book) and pricing it competitively, Amazon provided round-the-clock convenience without the hassle of mall parking, long checkout lines, or passerby snickers at your polka-dotted bathrobe and bunny slippers.

Once the platform was established, it was easy to add other light media items like music CDs and movies. Bulkier items would follow. It didn't take long before established retailers turned to Amazon for assistance in running their virtual storefronts. It was the ultimate endorsement. Amazon went on to ring up $6.9 billion in sales last year.

Top dog. First mover. Emerging industry. How about Whole Foods Market (NASDAQ:WFMI)? Absolutely. As traditional grocery stores languished, Whole Foods was able to provide an upscale experience by providing organic eats, supplements, and healthy foodstuff in an inviting retail environment. Over the past 10 years the stock has been a 10-bagger. Paper or plastic?

How about XM Satellite Radio (NASDAQ:XMSR)? Definitely. If you aren't excited about the potential of satellite radio, give it a few years. It will sink in.

Tomorrow's Rule Breakers today
Huge capital gains early in its publicly traded life inspired the quintessential search for the next Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), but you don't hear too much about why those gains came about in the first place. Yes, that's right. At the time, Microsoft was a Rule Breaker. Its operating system powered the personal computer. The same universal mastery on the software side that Michael Dell would match on the hardware side propelled Microsoft skyward and produced billionaire founders and millionaire investors.

Of course, knowing that won't help your portfolio much today. You should have bought Microsoft 20 years ago. You should have bought Whole Foods 10 years ago. That's why we launched our Motley Fool Rule Breakers newsletter service last year. Now you can find the top dogs that are leading the way early in their industrial revolutions.

Two of our recommendations are Intuitive Surgical (NASDAQ:ISRG) and Steiner Leisure (NASDAQ:STNR). They have both beaten the market since their initial write-ups, and I believe they will continue to beat the market. I also believe you may have never even heard of them (or if you have, it was probably months after they were singled out in the newsletter).

Intuitive Surgical is revolutionizing the operating room by using robotic arms to perform elaborate surgical procedures. Steiner Leisure is pampering cruise passengers as the floating spa of choice for every cruise line that matters. Both companies are wildly profitable -- and growing.

We have plenty more where those two came from. Each monthly issue is filled with stock ideas and in-depth analysis of the sectors that will rule our future. You are invited to be a part of our active and sometimes vocal Rule Breakers community. You can even take us up on a free 30-day trial subscription to see if the newsletter is right for you. Click here to learn more.

Greatness happens. Don't let it pass you by.

And for related Foolishness:

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz thinks that it's better to be the top dog in a hot industry than a hot dog in the food-service industry. He owns shares of Intuitive Surgical, but no other companies mentioned in this article. Amazon.com and Dell are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. The Fool has adisclosure policy. He is also part of theRule Breakersnewsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.