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Asia is starting to think differently

Conventional wisdom has it that the center of innovation and creativity is in the United States as evidenced by Silicon Valley. There is no doubt that the United States continues to be a leader in innovative thinking. But lest America rest on its laurels, it's important to recognize that other regions around the world recognize the competitive advantages inherent in innovative thinking and they're taking significant steps towards this mindset.

I'm in Singapore this week, teaching as a professor at National University of Singapore APEX EMBA program. Gathered from around Asia are 35 top business leaders all seeking to learn how to effectively compete in a global environment.

TommL | E+ | Getty Images

This particular group of participants, Intake 22, was not only vocal about creative perspectives but willing to challenge established thinking in developing business strategies for their own organizations. Shy they were not and that type of bold and assertive thinking is what pushes boundaries forward away from conventional thinking. Their fields of expertise included technology, finance, HR, industry and retail, among others. In other words, this was just not technology-minded visionaries but business leaders performing a variety of functional duties that all seemed to have a passion for creative destruction of the status quo.

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What is striking to me is the level of innovative thinking and creativity that this group shows. It's a far cry from the stereotypical conformist thinking that many have for this region. Instead, disruptive thinking seems to be in the inherent DNA for this group of individuals and I think it's indicative of a new Asian leadership perspective.

But wait you say, "Isn't Asia's differentiator low labor costs? Isn't that why they are a huge part of the global economic community now — their ability to manufacture goods at discounted prices?" Clearly the answer today is "yes." But labor costs are rising and as they continue to accelerate upward, Asia business leaders are going to have to figure out how to compete not only on price but on innovation. That process is underway around the region and is accelerating throughout the business community.

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Steve Jobs and Apple encouraged us to "Think different." Albert Einstein said, "Only those who attempt the absurd can achieve the impossible." It would appear that the next generation of Asian business leaders recognize that focusing simply on tradition and conformity is not the future in a rapidly changing economic environment. Successful business strategy will require attacking problems from a new perspectives — the market requires it. Tesla and Google are seeking to break conventional perspectives about the provision of a service or product to the public. This is the mindset that will win.

What the world needs to understand is that Asia understands this insight and they're not merely content to compete on price because of lower labor costs. There's a reason why Alibaba is located in Hangzhou. Hangzhou has countless engineering universities near its headquarters. They recognize that innovation and smart thinking is what is required to win in the new global marketplace and that requires talent that can think differently and solve problems in new ways.

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Innovators welcome challenges. Silicon Valley will certainly not shirk from this fight and other regional innovation hotspots around the world are focused on competing as well in Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa. It's a global war to see who can be most creative and destructive to current thinking while simultaneously providing alternative methods for the delivery of a service or product. Creative disruption that provides efficiencies and meets consumer needs is the goal in the end.

Asia has thrown its proverbial hat into the ring. From educational institutions to businesses, there is an emerging thinking developing in Asia. They are playing to win and the net result will be an increased bar for the creative destruction community. That's good news for us all.

Commentary by Michael A. Yoshikami, the CEO and founder of Destination Wealth Management in Walnut Creek, California. He is also a CNBC contributor.

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