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Keywords:

  • knowledge exchange and creation;
  • interfirm networks;
  • core and peripheral firms;
  • knowledge-enhancing practices;
  • motorcycle industry

We study 892 Italian motorcycle industry projects carried out via 184 different buyer–supplier and supplier-supplier relationships to provide evidence on the knowledge dynamics occurring in dyads and networks and to understand the underexplored but important (perhaps even dominant) leading role that some firms play in the evolution of networks and interfirm learning processes. We develop a multiphase model which, from a multilevel perspective addressing different relational subsets, suggests how firms can best organize to generate and exchange knowledge efficiently. We argue that extant theoretical perspectives can profitably draw on our findings to strengthen their dynamic components and help them explain the widely diffused ‘exploring through partner’ strategies more effectively. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.