Revolutionaries like John Lasseter are the secret to earning incredible returns in the stock market.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. You want to know: Who's John Lasseter?

The man behind the movies
John Lasseter is the creative genius behind Pixar, the animation studio that produced hits such as Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles.

The company, which also counted Apple Computer (NASDAQ:AAPL) founder Steve Jobs as a co-founder and chairman, was recently acquired by Disney (NYSE:DIS) for $7.4 billion. Lasseter is now Disney's head of animation. That's smart. After all, the newest members of Disney's character pantheon are all Pixar creations.

But get this: Lasseter used to work for Disney ... as an animator ... and Disney fired him! So Disney spent $7.4 billion on what was once its own.

The better company
As for what this has to do with investing, just compare Pixar's returns with Disney's. While Pixar shareholders earned an incredible 20% annually from the company's late 1995 IPO to its acquisition last May, Disney shareholders limped to 4.3% annual gains.

What made Pixar the better investment? Pixar was small, Pixar was innovative, Pixar was led by a dedicated team of founders, and Pixar was reinventing its industry. What's more, John Lasseter wouldn't let his company -- his dream -- settle for anything less than excellence.

The bloated company
Disney, on the other hand, was a bloated giant content to profit from its past. Bureaucracy and groupthink ensured that nothing was ever much better than mediocre. And that was fine. Disney remained profitable even as growth stalled.

But that's the problem with investing in big companies: They're too moribund to do anything too cutting-edge. That's why you see Time Warner (NYSE:TWX) starting to break itself up, why CBS (NYSE:CBS) split from Viacom (NYSE:VIA), and why a giant like Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) is buying up small, innovative outfits like video game advertiser Massive. Even NYSE Group (NYSE:NYX) paid up to acquire Archipelago's electronic trading platform. These firms are trying to rekindle the spirit that once made them great.

Finding more magic
Fortunately, you don't have to invest with these giants and hope they straighten themselves out. Instead, you can invest in the small, innovative companies dedicated to remaking their industries. That's the magic formula that spurred Pixar's incredible growth, and there are more companies like Pixar out there today.

We look for these stocks every day at The Motley Fool, and when we find them, we call them Rule Breakers. We've identified nearly 40 stocks to date in our investment service of the same name, and they're collectively beating the market by more than 8 percentage points. Click here to learn more.

Tim Hanson does not own shares of any company mentioned in this article. NYSE Group is a Rule Breakers recommendation. Disney and Time Warner are Stock Advisor recommendations. Microsoft is an Inside Value pick. No Fool is too cool for disclosure.