If you're going to step up the earnings stage every three months, you obviously don't want to disappoint the market. That doesn't mean that a company should settle for parroting the analyst targets, though. I'm always watching for those surprising companies that blow estimates away. It's a sign that a company is improving at a rate that even the pros can't grasp at the moment.

That said, let's take a closer look at a few of the companies that humbled the prognosticators this past week.

We'll start with Gymboree (NASDAQ:GYMB). Even though analysts expected earnings to nearly triple to $0.54 a share for the latest quarter, the apparel retailer for fashion-conscious small fries earned a profit of $0.60 a share. You can't blame the analysts for missing this one; just last month, the company had filed guidance of $0.52 a share to $0.54 a share for the period.

Gymboree was a strong growth stock in the 1990s. At the time, its concept of retailing colorful kid clothes and hosting popular early-learning activities that culminated in "parachute time" was driving stellar growth. No, parachute time isn't what you think it is. Parents weren't that crazy a decade ago! It's just a ritual where kids gather around a circular parachute and flap it around. However, Gymboree could probably have used a parachute to break its fall when it struggled with expansion, comps, and cutthroat clearance sales to move dated inventory. That seems to be in the past now, since Gymboree has been bouncing back in recent quarters. Let's see if the company keeps the welcome surprises coming. (Keep that parachute handy, just in case.)

Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS) was another topper. The investment banker rocked the very market it watches over by earning $5.08 a share in its fiscal first quarter. That was heavy coinage compared to the $3.29 per share that its Wall Street peers had been projecting. It was a great week for the industry, as Bear Stearns (NYSE:BSC) and Lehman Brothers (NYSE:LEH) also came in comfortably ahead of their market forecasts.

From blue-light specials to red-hot turnaround, Sears (NASDAQ:SHLD) saw its shares surge 13% higher on Wednesday, after the department-store retailer earned $4.03 per share for its seasonally potent holiday quarter. That was far better than the $3.62 a share that the market was expecting. Even though sales growth has been a challenge, the company has been able to cut costs at its namesake and Kmart concepts since the colossal merger between the two struggling chains.

Keep watching the companies that lap expectations. Over time, it will be a rewarding experience for investors. That's the kind of surprise that market watchers relish in the Rule Breakers newsletter service. The strategy has paid off, since the average Rule Breaker selection has trounced the S&P 500's market return. Want in? Check out a 30-day trial subscription.

Either way, come back next Monday to learn about more stocks that blew the market away.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz is a fan of toppers. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story. The Foo l has a disclosure policy. Rick is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.