We review literature relating to three types of factors known to influence stem cell behavior. These factors are stochastic gene expression, regulatory network architecture, and the influence of external signals, such as those emanating from the niche. Although these factors are considered separately, their shared evolutionary history necessitates integration. Stochastic gene expression pervades network components; network architecture controls, modulates, or exploits this noise while performing additional computation; and such complexity also interplays with factors external to cells. Adequate understanding of each of these components, and how they interact, will lead to a conceptual model of the stem cell regulatory system that can be used to drive hypothesis-driven research and facilitate interpretation of experimental data.