It seems like another lifetime. I was on the phone with an old pal. A few months earlier, he'd tipped me to a local scientist who claimed he could crack the human genome. There was an IPO. I bought in and forgot all about it. It was December 1999.

What the heck is going on here?
You may recall that the genome story was hot that winter, but this was nuts. By Christmas, the stock was doubling every week. Turns out, some Fool named David Gardner bought it for his Rule Breaker portfolio.

Rule Breaker. I'll never forget the day I heard those two words. In December 1999, I had no idea what they meant or who David Gardner was, but these Fools were moving the market.

If you're a regular here, you may have heard that Rule Breaker investing is back. But it's probably not what you think. It's certainly not what I thought when I heard those two words on the phone.

For one thing, it's not all tech
Sure, there was some tech in the original Rule Breaker portfolio. Gardner told his readers to buy AOL way back in 1994. Another well-timed play on Lucent, now called Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE:ALU), and a gutsy short call on Sirius Satellite Radio -- now Sirius XM Radio (NASDAQ:SIRI) -- followed.

But Rule Breakers was never all tech. ExxonMobil was in Gardner's original portfolio. So was AT&T (NYSE:T). David is still a big fan of FedEx (NYSE:FDX), and he insists that low-tech Starbucks was the consummate Rule Breaker.

So, what exactly made Starbucks a Rule Breaker? There was no second fiddle, according to David. Where was the Pepsi to Starbucks' Coke? That's what made Starbucks a Rule Breaker. If you bought Starbucks along with Gardner in 1998 -- I wish I had -- you're one, too.

So just what makes a Rule Breaker investor?
To find out, I caught up with David Gardner and asked him. His reply? "It's an investor who can embrace the contrary nature of paying up for great growth stocks."

This is important. After all, great growth companies rarely look "cheap" to value-oriented investors -- witness software company Adobe Systems (NASDAQ:ADBE), a 10-bagger many times over. Like Gardner says, you had to pay up for a company like Adobe, even in the early '90s, but on the balance, it was worth the gamble. Should you take his word for it?

I would. When Gardner shuttered his real-money Rule Breakers portfolio, he'd managed a 20.1% annualized return. That was in mid-2003, after a bear market much like this one. Compare that with 9.1% for the S&P 500 and 7.3% for the Nasdaq over the same period. That's the kind of performance that made legends of Peter Lynch and Bill Miller, and rightfully so.

Aggressive growth investing is not for everyone
Riding the growth tiger can get scary, especially in times like this. Gardner's subscribers learned that firsthand when the genome stocks blew up in 2000, and more recently with Under Armour (NYSE:UA) and Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), two companies I like, but which are weighing on his new Rule Breakers portfolio.

Then again, if I've learned anything from following the work of Gardner and his team, it's that the best stock stories, the ones we brag about after a few at the pub, are Rule Breakers.

The trick, of course, is spotting them early on and having the guts to buy when you do. It certainly helps to get your information from someone you can trust -- someone who does the legwork.

Go straight to the source
Here's what I'd suggest: Accept a 30-day free trial of David Gardner's Motley Fool Rule Breakers newsletter. Poke around the website and see what Gardner and his team of analysts are digging up now. (You can even read and download all the issues and see every active and closed-out pick.)

There's no pressure to subscribe if you don't want to -- though a lot of folks do. Of course, I can't guarantee that it will make you rich, but I can promise you'll learn a lot, have a blast, and get some great stock ideas.

And your trial is absolutely free, which is nice in these tough times. If you're a Rule Breaker who's not ready to give up on stocks for the long-term and want to learn more about taking a no-obligation free trial, click here.

This article was originally published on Dec. 16, 2004. It has been updated.

Fool writer Paul Elliott doesn't own any of the stocks named here. Starbucks and FedEx are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. Starbucks is also an Inside Value choice. Under Armour is a Motley Fool Hidden Gems and Rule Breakers selection. The Motley Fool owns shares of Under Armour and Starbucks. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.