When best practice fails to replicate

On a recent visit to my native Luxembourg I was presented with an old problem. Why, in many public swimming pools, is it impossible to actually swim? Luxembourg, a tiny but hugely wealthy country, has built many new pools in recent years (such as Mersch, Redange or Les Thermes). They are all lovely and shiny, amazingly clean, and offer fantastic facilities. You just can’t swim there.

Now compare this with Britain. Many pools over here are frankly dilapidated, the changing rooms are often a disgrace, and the prices exorbitant. Sure, there are exceptions to this (my favourites are in Plymouth and London Soho) but, on the whole, British pools are a pretty grim affair. And yet, I vastly prefer them to the aquatic temples of Luxurybourg.


Because the Brits, world champions in civilised queuing, have devised a simple system that enables everyone to swim properly. It just involves a piece a rope and some common sense: you simply divide the pool (or part of it) into lanes. It’s a cheap and effective way of keeping everybody happy, and it increases pool capacity many times over (each lane can fit almost as many people as a whole, unroped pool).

A best practice (left), waiting to be replicated (right). Cartoon by the author (click on image for full res on Flickr).

A best practice (left), waiting to be replicated (right).Cartoon by the author (click on image for full resolution on Flickr).

When I suggested this solution to the lifeguard in Luxembourg, he looked at me as if I’d just proposed to jump in naked. And so the locals will silently continue with their old ways, oblivious to the fact that their expensive pools could be made infinitely more usable with a few metres of rope. As in most of continental Europe, swimmer-dodging slalom continues to prevail (although to be fair, I’ve experienced exceptions in some countries).

I don’t mean to claim the moral high ground here – we are all creatures of habit, and usually fail to see it ourselves until someone else points it out. The moral of this story is that no money or resources in the world will guarantee the implementation of best practices or innovative solutions. On the contrary, comfort and wealth can easily breed complacency.

To innovate or replicate best practice, all that is required is simply a willingness to listen to others and look outside the box.





3 thoughts on “When best practice fails to replicate

  1. Generalizing is not my best cup of tea but as an long dated traveller and observer I recon that in Europe we are in general pretty provincial and often looking into the garden of the neighbour for better solutions is a question of pride.
    Lots to learn from eachother but too glued to our daily routines!

  2. Hi Thierry, You might be right, but I cannot agree. Your view of the arrows is merely from your perspective and experience. My comment: you swim too fast or too slow. Frankly, there are so many arrows in your right side drawing, I would say this pool is simply overcrowded. Some aspects you like about of the pools in Luxusbuerg, what about transferring them to UK? Why not simply build some more pools (it’s a joke!!). I guess, we like our way of freedom and liberty. And we might build pools for kids to splash. But during hours of counting tiles, one might search for further optimization of how to swim up and down a pool lane 

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