Lymphocytes are essential in innate and adaptive immunity. Recent insights suggest that some innate lymphocytes execute functions with adaptive characteristics, while adaptive lymphocytes can operate in ways reminiscent of innate cells. Rather than partitioning lymphocytes according to the type of effector function they execute, we propose that a relevant discrimination relates to the existence of conventional T cells in a naive state. The naive state can be seen as an actively repressed condition that supports T cell diversity and enables the flexible differentiation of effector cells in a manner that best addresses the antigenic challenge. We discuss these considerations in the context of the relative roles of innate lymphoid cells and antigen-experienced T cells in the immune system.