Could you sail an oil tanker? Use ad-skipping technology as part of an ad campaign? Light a building on the power of footsteps?

If any of these ideas make you stop and wonder, "What if," then you've just been hooked on the potential of innovation to transform everyday events. And alongside that potential are investing opportunities. Find the disruptive innovations that are changing the way business is done, and you'll find chances to invest in the companies leading the way to new paradigms and new profits.

Ideas of the year
Innovations in transportation, advertising, and energy were among the dozens of important, inspiring, and sometimes irreverent concepts profiled in The New York Times Magazine's most recent "Year in Ideas." Consider these:

Energy-harvesting floors: A London architecture firm wants to place tiny hydraulic generators beneath floors, capturing 3 to 5 watts of power from vibrations every time someone walks over it. Multiply this single step by the thousands of people rushing through a subway station or skyscraper every day, and the power of this hidden energy starts to add up.

Jujitsu advertising: Traditional TV advertisers recognize the threat that digital recorders from TiVo (NASDAQ:TIVO) and cable companies like Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) pose, and now they're fighting back. Last year, Yum Brands' (NYSE:YUM) KFC hyped a new commercial that contained a hidden prize code that viewers could redeem online for a free sandwich. The catch: The code was flashed on-screen for just one frame, a fraction of a second you couldn't spot with your naked eye. But use your DVR to pause and replay in slow motion, and you'd crack the code and earn a free treat.

That sailing oil tanker: KiteShip, a private California company, makes "very large free-flying sails" that can already help yachts, ferries, and research ships move faster and use less fuel. Now the company is thinking bigger -- much bigger -- envisioning a kite sail the size of a football field. This would be large enough to help move cargo ships and oil tankers -- possibly with fuel savings of 15% to 30%.

Follow the disruptive leaders
Just when it seemed like technology was making TV commercials obsolete, innovation changed the game. The promise of reshaping the energy industry -- and everyone who relies on it -- lies in the ability to think big, whether that's harnessing power from everyday sources or cutting transportation costs.

Looking through the ideas on the Times' list, a theme emerges: Each of these, from the practical to the fanciful, represents a new way of doing something, a new approach that could fundamentally change the status quo in that industry. And in each area, there are upstarts who will champion new technologies and established players who will have to react. And that's where you come in.

Innovative profits
The history of innovation is one of disruption. New ideas burst onto the scene, upset the existing ways of doing business, and make their marks. And the history of investing in innovation is one of successful profits -- if you can identify the companies that are disruptive innovators early in their rise. Here are some other great innovations that made it from the lists of new ideas to profitable investments:



Made the List

Return Since

Mac Mini computer


2005 Industrial Design Excellence Award


Portable wireless video system


2005 Time "Best Inventions"


Minimally invasive robotic surgery

Intuitive Surgical (NASDAQ:ISRG)

2004 Forbes "Robots That Will Change Your Life"


DVD rentals by mail


2003 Wired 40


Data from Yahoo! Finance. Returns as of Feb. 2.

Invest in the future
Innovation starts with ideas, and so should investing. Find the best ideas and you'll have an inside track to the companies that will power the next business models, the next technologies, and the next great revolutions that will change our lives.

It's not just about innovation, though -- TiVo made all the lists of best ideas but has languished since its IPO. Fool co-founder David Gardner, who heads up our Rule Breakers growth investing service, also looks for a strong consumer appeal, a sustainable competitive advantage, and a good management team.

Since Rule Breakers started in 2004, David's made it his mission to uncover the companies that are changing their industries -- the "top dogs and first-movers" -- with new methods, new technologies, and new ideas. Already, six of his picks -- including Intuitive Surgical -- have doubled or more.

If you'd like to join the hunt for tomorrow's great growth ideas, or if you'd just like to see all our recommendations, including our five favorite growth stocks for right now, you can take a 30-day free trial to Rule Breakers. There's no obligation, so click here to learn more.

Make money by following the disruptive leaders: Now that's a great idea.

Rule Breakers editor Rik Silverman owns shares of Intuitive Surgical. TiVo and Netflix are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. The Fool's disclosure policy is another great idea.