After several years and many failures I've finally begun to realize exactly what it is that actually gets returns.
:: a 20,000 foot view ::
When a suggestion or suggestive thought comes your way from someone much more connected or wise than yourself you take that advice! Surrounding yourself with people that are connected and intelligent is of great importance if you're to be successful in life. This needs additional context, however, as it would be unwise, regardless of how intelligent this information broker is, to simply act on that advice with your life savings.
The context: if there's something you can invest very little into that has huge potential for growth do so immediately. Don't get too carried away with this idea though; it's important to not invest too much as things that have huge upswings also have greater potential for collapse. So, invest a tiny amount and then let it sit; for years if need be. You can increase your chances for success with this by investing lots of little amounts in many different opportunities.
So that's the idea, but it's somewhat incomplete without further explanation. It's important to have a foundation to build from; so, let's try to set some ground rules while at the same time explain some things to help fill in the blanks. It'll almost certainly help you when making decisions born of your own experience.
:: the nitty-gritty ::
Always invest only what you don't need. Investing money just to turn around and have to pull it out later before it's had time to mature will almost always result in either loss or unfulfilled potential. That is to say you'll lose money when you pull out or your returns will be only a fraction of what they could have been. Make the wise decision and invest only the excess. Something important on this subject: note that I said "what you don't need". Wants are not needs. Keep that in mind. You'll have to get a handle on your bad spending habits (if you have them) before you can make any headway in investing.
Diversify! This can't be said enough. The larger part of your investments should be split across many different industries, countries, and currencies. Whether this diversification is done automatically via software (using something like Betterment) or manually (using something like Robinhood and splitting across many different index funds), it should be done. Only invest excess in single companies. Investing too much in a single company, strong belief, gut feeling, or otherwise is very risky. This brings be to the last, but certainly not least important subtopic.
Don't let your emotions control your investments. Make calculated decisions based on research, tip-offs from the connected, and patient studying of the market. Don't make snap decisions unless they are cheap and have high potential for return. Expensive snap decisions are, again, very risky and generally don't pay off. You'll hear stories of success, but those are the exception not the rule. Trust me on this: you'll have a bad day if you risk it all on a whim or act when panicked and fearful. Don't freak out and sell when things start to look bad unless you have a justified reason to do so that is based on research and contemplation. If you made a studied and wise decision when purchasing (or your purchase was cheap) then trust in your decision. There's either little or no real risk in these cases. Be perceptive, realize this, and wait. This will almost always pay off in the end.
People naturally gravitate towards and support good deeds. A happy prospect that has proven time and again to be truth. People look for companies that are doing good things in the world. Justified and long awaited market disruption is often rewarded. People donate to companies in the business of helping others by being a customer and thusly their growth can be yours as well.
Invest for the good of humanity; populations gravitate toward kindness. Invest small and risky; losing it all when all is insubstantial is easy. Invest large and risk-averse; losing all when all is your life's work is hard. Continuously invest in yourself; knowledge and wisdom pays dividends and the interest on these compounds daily.
A note on the quote; more detail where detail is needed. Invest in a good cause; whether that be something you personally believe in or just something that you think is for the good of humanity in general. These investments are win-win. No matter what your returns are you'll feel good about your decision. Just a little side note here: these investments have a much higher chance for larger returns. Why? Because companies that give and have a purpose that involves helping others almost always succeed. So long as those companies aren't corrupted along the way and stay true to their goal of putting others first they undoubtedly go far.
These are all the thoughts that come to mind on this topic for now. There is, perhaps, more to come. Certainly as I continue to grow and learn in this space other things will settle and take root within my mind. Until then: invest wisely, my friends.