Danny Risberg, chairman of both the European Business Council in Japan and of Philips Electronics Japan Ltd., wants Japanese to become fast, smart and independent decision-makers. "Japan is a great place with great people and great technology. It's ready. It's right. It's ready to explode," he says. "But, it just hasn't gone there yet." Risberg, a Japanese-American hafu who hails from California, shared with this author his personal views as to why this is so.

Japanese like to think, he says. They carefully review all options before making decisions. Having done so, they'll go back to thinking about what to do some more. Then they repeat the process — several times over. After a further review, finally everyone agrees. A decision is made. They discuss a new set of rules for everyone to follow. "Once everything is decided, they do it. And they'll keep doing it for a long, long time," he says. If only they would think less and do more in a virtuous loop of thinking, doing, learning, fixing and rethinking, the nation would become fast and nimble.

This holds true for Japanese entrepreneurs, many of whom still want to build businesses the old-fashioned way. Typically they are middle-aged managers who, after gaining 25 to 30 years of experience at a large Japanese company, strike out in business on their own. "On incorporation, they want to build the factory first," notes Risberg. They borrow money against their homes to do so, as risk capital is hard to obtain. Once in hock, they end up with huge debts by digging themselves into an ever deeper hole. "If it works, great! If it doesn't, they're stuck."