I was curious, what is academia's perspective on the following type of student, assuming that the student is well qualified via research experience, letters of recommendation, grades, GRE, passion, and other things CV related:
The student is very, very good at asking innovative questions and proposing difficult questions that others have not thought about, that is they can see the current landscape of their field and understand it really well. However, innately, they are not a good problem SOLVER. They can pretty much do a minute portion of problem solving in research, but it's something akin to hinting (ambiguous solutions that need a third party to think hard about implementation). They can solve solve problems as per their curricula (and thus get a high GPA), but not unsolved problems in academia. Moreover, it helps that they are a brilliant communicator and writer.
The reason why I ask is because I have a friend who fits the description above. That friend is heavily, heavily revered by his PI who absolutely loves him. One of the primary reasons is because my friend's questions have been the basis for many grants (which he also writes with the consultation of my professor), resulting in a large influx of funding for my professor. The professor, as a thinker, would be qualitatively put as "above average", and is a hybrid between a thinker and a doer. Everyone else in the lab is a lab technician, and there are a couple of postdocs. What's interesting is that the lab has really good chemistry. My friend comes up with an idea, runs it by the PI. The PI, who has insight checks it off or guns the idea down depending on the context. The PI also proposes solutions. Next, the technicians and postdocs who are highly skilled in procedure and are the tangible hands that make the results happen in real life as per the instructions of the PI. The PI admits that they don't have the innate vision to ask these questions, but given the questions can crank out a solution with the lab technicians. It's a little scary to think that for the past 2 years, an undergraduate has been the mind behind pretty much all of the sub-experiments and directions of my institution's top labs by funding and results. The PI has received tenure as a result. What's interesting is, by speculation, no one can survive without the other. Well, the PI could technically survive, but would be reduced to doing his previous projects. However, without an army of skilled labor and a PI as an intermediary, my friend cannot get anything done. My friend wants to move to a different institution for pedigree as he receives an advanced degree. My friend is an abysmal doer, and cannot learn at an appreciable rate.
By abysmal doer, I mean (by his own admission), sometimes clumsy with the hands, sometimes randomly lacks motivation, and when focused, is "slow" in picking up a step by step procedure. For example, we took an upper level chemistry course together for a science elective. He can easily explain PCR on paper and orally, with much deeper insight and implications than a textbook, so you know he's not memorizing. But come in the lab, he looks totally clueless and out of place, looks at the reagents like they're foreign substances.
Outside of being a theoretician (for example a theoretical physicist, something my friend ironically does not want to pursue), can my friend survive in graduate school?