Mammals adapt to a rapidly changing world because of the sophisticated cognitive functions that are supported by the neocortex. The neocortex, which forms almost 80% of the human brain, seems to have arisen from repeated duplication of a stereotypical microcircuit template with subtle specializations for different brain regions and species. The quest to unravel the blueprint of this template started more than a century ago and has revealed an immensely intricate design. The largest obstacle is the daunting variety of inhibitory interneurons that are found in the circuit. This review focuses on the organizing principles that govern the diversity of inhibitory interneurons and their circuits