Some of the best investment advice I've ever heard came from "The Great One."

But I don't mean Peter Lynch, Benjamin Graham, or even Warren Buffett. (Though as you're about to see, Buffett is a big fan of The Great One, too.) And I definitely don't mean Jim Cramer.

You've probably heard The Great One's name dozens of times, but you may not know just how wise he is. Nonetheless, he's said some very smart things. For instance ...

"You miss 100% of the shots you never take"
That's but one of the many pearls of wisdom The Great One has dropped over the years. And while it might seem obvious, or even trite, it's a truth we often take for granted.

Just think of the person you never asked to the dance, or the job you never applied for, or the novel you never finished ... or the stock you never purchased.

It happens to all of us. We get nervous, or doubtful, or busy, or ... you name it. And that might end up costing us the person of our dreams, or the job we've always wanted, or our only shot at fame. But in the case of investing, it will definitely cost us a fortune.

Back in 2007, two stocks sat on my watch list for a full 365 days:


Gain in 2007

Market Cap Today (in Billions)







A $24,600 mistake
Should I have bought them? Perhaps. But by not investing in them, I wound up making a grand total of ... nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch.

That's a bitter pill to swallow, especially considering had I invested five grand in each company at the beginning of 2007, I would have been sitting on $24,600 one year later. I guess it just goes to show you that if you want to score, you've got to take a shot.

And if we want to score really, really big ...
We have to follow The Great One's most famous piece of advice: "Skate to where the puck is going, not to where it's been."

You may already know that The Great One is hockey legend Wayne Gretzky. If not, all you need to know is that Gretzky was arguably the greatest player ever to take the ice.

What made him The Great One? Quite simply, he was always one step ahead of everyone else -- not because of his speed, but because of his anticipation. While everyone else skated to where the puck had just been, Gretzky always skated to where it was going next.

That's the key to great investing, too
And apparently, I'm not the only one who thinks so. In an op-ed piece he penned for The New York Times, Warren Buffett used this same quote to make the point that investors who keep their cash on the sidelines when market sentiment is negative are missing out on a potentially huge opportunity.

While I couldn't agree more with Mr. Buffett, I think this quote has an even more meaningful connection to small-cap investing. If you look at the tables below, you'll start to notice an interesting correlation between market cap and percentage gain: The smaller the business, the greater the returns. While this won't always be the case, this data is a quick and dirty way of showing that the best performers do indeed start small.

That's also how you can skate to where the puck is going next.

Bigger isn't better, but size does matter
Here are a few companies that began 2007 with market values greater than $5 billion:


Gain in 2007

Rank Among Large Caps



No. 7

Vimpel-Communications (NYSE:VIP)


No. 5

Research In Motion


No. 4

Siderurgica Nacional (NYSE:SID)


No. 3

Data provided by Capital IQ.

And here are a few companies that began 2007 with market values less than $5 billion (but more than $50 million):


Gain in 2007

Rank Among Small Caps

Intuitive Surgical (NASDAQ:ISRG)


No. 20

CF Industries Holdings


No. 9

Onyx Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:ONXX)


No. 3

Data provided by Capital IQ.

While the gains of the top-performing large caps were certainly impressive, it's worth noting that the 20th best-performing small cap returned nearly 40 percentage points more than the third best-performing large cap. In fact, of the top 10 overall performers, none was a large cap.

For further proof, just have a look at the top five best-performing stocks of the past 52 weeks with market caps greater than $5 billion:


Market Cap

52-Week Gain


$5.3 billion


Sterlite Industries (NYSE:SLT)

$12.7 billion



$25.6 billion


Southern Copper (NYSE:PCU)

$30.7 billion


$7.5 billion


Data provided by Google Finance.

Now compare that with the top five best-performing stocks of the past 52 weeks with market caps less than $5 billion:


Market Cap

52-Week Gain

HeartWare International

$358 million


Diedrich Coffee

$169 million


Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group

$568 million


TorreyPines Therapeutics

$63 million


Vanda Pharmaceuticals

$290 million


Data provided by Google Finance.

Here's how you can score big in 2009 and beyond:
First off, keep Buffett's advice in mind. Second, keep The Great One's advice in mind. Finally, take a page out of my colleague Tim Hanson's book, and make sure to look for stocks that are obscure, ignored, and small.

These three traits have characterized some of the best-performing stocks of the past decade. More importantly, they will characterize some of the most lucrative stocks of the next 10 years.

In fact, we started our Motley Fool Hidden Gems service precisely to uncover businesses with these three traits. Since day one, our team members have dedicated themselves to discovering where the puck is going next.

And thanks to continuing market uncertainty, many of today's most promising small-cap stocks are still selling at bargain-basement discounts. If ever there were a perfect time to take your shot and score big, this is it.

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This article was first published Jan. 25, 2008. It has been updated.

Austin Edwards finally did buy shares of Apple and Chipotle in 2008. Apple and are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. Chipotle and Intuitive Surgical are Rule Breakers picks. Chipotle is also a Hidden Gems recommendation and a Fool holding. Sterlite Industries is a Global Gains pick. The Fool's disclosure policy is the coolest game on Earth.