At Hothouse, we take innovation as seriously as we take our tacos (which is v seriously). That’s why we were so excited to combine those two elements for a seriously engaging talk with Nicole Jones, Delta’s Global Innovation Leader. There, she leads The Hangar, a collaborative research center between Delta and Georgia Tech, tasked with solving the company’s biggest challenges.

She joined us at our neighborhood taco joint for a Q & A style lunch ‘n learn. Moderated by our own Creative Director Sarah O’Bryan, Jones revealed some of her toughest challenges, proudest moments and how she helps Delta stay on the leading edge of innovative solutions. Here are a few of our favorite takeaways that we can apply to our own clients:

Design with humans in mind.
Some agencies talk a big game and make changes just to show they’re innovative. But Jones says that the real value to innovative technology lies in solving real human problems. Her team had observed how limited gate agents were when it came to providing customer service. A passenger’s needs don’t necessarily stop at the gate counter and they often need answers while on the go throughout the terminal. So Delta developed a mobile app, empowering agents to provide one-on-one help without being tethered to their stations. The pilot rollout generated critical feedback, so they listened to the users, revamped and relaunched, helping gate agents provide excellent service to every single passenger—no matter where they are in the airport.

Get your insights directly from your customers.
A large part of marketing and advertising is identifying needs before customers even know they have them. We know that millennials notoriously eschew old, outdated brand interactions they perceive as wasteful. So when tasked with attracting millennials to Delta’s Sky Clubs, Jones did something revolutionary: she listened. She and her staff went to 11 Sky Clubs across the country and watched, listened and looked at the challenges millennial travelers faced. From there, they were able to start the project with authentic insights and truths, which ultimately resulted in designing the next generation of the Delta Sky Club.

Learn how to say “Yes, and…”
That weirdo in your office who takes the improv classes? Keep inviting them to meetings, and listen to their ideas. Jones says that even the riskiest ideas have a core of truth that can be developed. Tattooing RFID codes on unaccompanied minors is definitely wild, (and most likely illegal), but there’s truth behind the idea that can be used to solve a problem for customers. According to Jones, a lot of the most innovative ideas out there might start with something that sounds absolutely insane. Don’t shut them down without first digging deeper to see if there’s something amazing in there.

Take risks, and develop a culture that values risk-taking.
Traditional wisdom says, “Save the company money, reap the rewards!” Many projects are measured solely on revenue or cost-cutting. We were surprised to know that this is the best way to fail in an innovation team. Jones says that when the team isn’t beholden to specific numbers they must reach, they’re free to attack big problems with big ideas—and for Pete’s sake, she says, “don’t wait for permission to innovate.” She recommends thinking about the company as if you’re the CEO, no matter what your job is. For us at Hothouse, that means everyone from our junior designers to our executive VPs (and of course our president, Jon) are always looking for innovative ways to make our clients shine.