Rule Breaker. Let me tell you about the day I heard those two words.

I was whispering on the phone to an old pal. That summer, he'd tipped me to a local scientist who claimed he was about to crack the human genome. There was an IPO. I bought in and forgot it.

What the heck is going on here?
Biotech was hot. Genentech had more than doubled since October. Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE:BMY) and other big pharma were reportedly out shopping, and everything from Biogen Idec (NASDAQ:BIIB) to Genzyme (NASDAQ:GENZ) was blowing up. But this was something else.

By New Year's, my genome stock was doubling every week. Apparently, some Fool named David Gardner had bought it for his real-money Rule Breaker portfolio. In December 1999, I had no idea what that meant, but it seemed to be moving the market.

Good times. I imagine this might all seem a bit quaint now, 10 years later, with everybody carrying on about the "death of equities." But I assure you, there are companies doing real work out there, and it's not impossible to find them.

And if you're a regular here, you may have also heard that Rule Breaker investing is back. But it may not be what you think. It's certainly not what I thought it was.

For one thing, it's not all tech
Sure, there was some technology and biotech in Gardner's original Rule Breaker portfolio -- including my genome stock. But as it turns out, it was never disruptive technologies he was after so much as disruptive businesses.

To see the difference, think about Wal-Mart. On one hand, Sam Walton was just another backwater retailer. But he was also a man obsessed with raising inventory management to a science. Wal-Mart was a rule breaker, and it paved the way for Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) and Costco (NASDAQ:COST), among others.

So just what makes a Rule Breaker investor?
To find out, I caught up with David Gardner and asked him. According to David, "a Rule Breaker is any investor who can embrace the contrary nature of paying up for great growth stocks."

Gardner points out how great growth companies rarely look "cheap." So you usually have to pay up for them. This can get scary, but he insists that Rule Breakers like these are worth the gamble. Should you take his word for it? I would.

Turns out, when Gardner shuttered his real-money Rule Breaker portfolio, he'd managed a 20.1% annualized return. That was in mid-2003, after the bear market. 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 in their day, and rightfully so.

But are you a rule breaker?
That's a valid question. Growth investing can be a wild ride. I learned that when the genome stocks blew up in 2000 and more recently when the Rule Breakers team recommended Affymetrix (Nasdaq:  AFFX), another genome-related stock they sold at a loss.

Then again, Intuitive Surgical (NASDAQ:ISRG) -- a multiple Rule Breakers recommendation -- took it on the chin last year, too, but it's still up 250% since Gardner first recommended it, even after that serious pullback.

The trick, of course, is spotting companies like these early and having the courage to take the plunge when you do. It helps to get your information from someone you can trust -- someone who has the resources and does the legwork. In other words, not from some wahoo on the phone.

So why not go straight to the source?
Listen, I know it has been rough. That's why I'd like you to accept a 30-day free trial to David Gardner's Motley Fool Rule Breakers newsletter. This way you can test-drive the complete service, and you won't have to spend a lot of money to see what Gardner and his team of analysts are digging up now.

You can even print out all back issues and cherry-pick every active and past pick during your free trial. There's never any pressure to subscribe. If you don't like what you see, you don't pay a cent.

Of course, I can't say you'll get rich quick if you accept. But I can promise that you'll get some great ideas, and that you'll have nothing to lose. If you think you're ready to get back in the mix and want to learn more about taking a free trial, click here.

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

Fool writer Paul Elliott owns shares of Genzyme. Biogen Idec and Best Buy are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. Best Buy, Wal-Mart, and Costco are Inside Value recommendations. Intuitive Surgical is a Rule Breakers pick. The Fool owns shares of Best Buy. You can view all of David's picks with your free trial. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.