You're not supposed to laugh. Hearing someone say "it's different this time" isn't supposed to come off as a joke. Whether it's a Chicago Cubs fan gushing over off-season free agent signings or your unlucky-in-love best friend insisting that she has finally found the one, you're supposed to keep that chuckle inside.

It doesn't work.

After a brave try to keep a straight face, you bust a gut and the giggling starts.

"But it is different this time."

Oh, no -- now you're laughing even harder.

And if this is how that phrase plays out in your everyday life, you can only imagine how knee-slappingly hilarious it is to hear investors say the same thing in justifying their stock buys. A scorched sector? A stock with a history of disappointment?

"It's different this time!"

You'll be laughing so uncontrollably that you'll wish you had one of those NASA-approved adult diapers on.

Maybe it really is different this time
Some of the greatest disruptive technologies come in sectors that appear irreparably broken. Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) succeeded in digital music because the actual record labels were initially incompetent. Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) wouldn't have been so popular if it weren't for the widespread disenchantment with the conventional movie rental experience.

That's just how it goes. Just because no one has ever come up with a better mousetrap doesn't mean that a better mousetrap isn't possible. Just look around your home. That broom and mop seem to work perfectly fine, yet along comes iRobot (NASDAQ:IRBT) with its vacuum-cleaning Roomba and floor-scrubbing Scooba robotic appliances. Suddenly you find yourself hanging out on your couch, flipping through television channels on your remote control while your army of automatons cleans your home.

Nothing beats hitting the open road with an atlas. It's all there for you. A convenience store is never too far away if you truly do get lost. Paper cuts are the battle scar of choice for true asphalt-hugging warriors. Right? My dad is like that. I was like that, too -- until I bought myself a Garmin (NASDAQ:GRMN) last year. It does make a difference. It does change everything.

Think different, wink different
Technology is a disruptor. You may not see it that way, but perhaps you reluctantly held on to your vinyl albums, VHS cassettes, and floppy disks before embracing CDs, DVDs, and USB drives.

And don't get too attached to those, either, because digital music, high-def movie formats, and Web-based storage services, respectively, are replacing the replacements.

It's all a part of the evolutionary process. We can't be naive. Audible (NASDAQ:ADBL) revolutionized digital audiobooks. Intuit (NASDAQ:INTU) has set the standard in accounting software. Adobe (NASDAQ:ADBE) is the only name that matters in Web publishing. Check back with me in a dozen years to see where they stand. They may very well be thriving. In fact, I would argue that they will be feasting in the future. However, their roles, products, and platforms will look entirely different then.

Think about it. These may have all seemed like unassuming companies at first, but they thrived at the expense of their sector's equivalent of the buggy-whip manufacturers.

  • Apple's iTunes Music Store made awkwardly restrictive music label-led digital initiatives Pressplay and MusicNet obsolete.
  • Netflix sent bricks-and-mortar DVD rental chains falling until they launched their own online stores.
  • iRobot forced conventional vacuum cleaner makers like Electrolux to rush out their own robotic appliances, yet iRobot's Roomba is still the only brand that matters.
  • Garmin owns most of the GPS market, and it has displaced old-school map and atlas publishers and probably even new-school search engines with online road maps.
  • Audible keeps nibbling away at the volume of CD and cassette-based audiobooks, and possibly even actual printed editions.
  • Intuit sent your family accountant scrambling, even though more complicated corporate books and tax returns still need a little handholding.
  • Adobe displaced its own printing-house-enabling software with more lucrative products when the publishing revolution migrated online.

Is it different this time? Listen, it's always different. That is what creates enhancements for consumers, operating efficiencies for producers, and opportunities for investors. When I became part of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers newsletter team in 2004, we didn't just hang our hats on the inaugural issue. Every month unveils a new issue loaded with stock recommendations and forward-thinking market commentary watching over several different growth sectors. Along the way, our vibrant community and exclusive online features keep the cheering section for disruptive technologies alive and well between issues.

Maybe the Cubs won't win squat this year. Maybe that guy will only break your friend's heart. The only thing you can count on is that when it comes to investing, it is companies that try to cut against the grain and do things in a new way that wind up being the greatest investments of your generation.

"It's different this time"?

You bet, but go ahead and laugh if you want to -- all the way to the bank.

Ready for something a little different? If so, stock picks like iRobot fill the ever-changing scorecard of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers newsletter service. Yes, that free 30-day pass will let you in on the April issue, released last night, as well as the entire backlog of past issues.  

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz would like to go on the record as saying that the Cubs really don't have a shot this year. Sorry. He'll still cheer them on, anyway. Intuit is a former Inside Value selection. Garmin and Netflix are Stock Advisor picks. Rick does own shares in Netflix. He is part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.